conservation science websites

Two crowd-sourcing projects today, both very different in aims, but similar in their online community-based approach.

First up, Whale FM is a marine research project dedicated to deciphering whale song. Orcas, or killer whales, appear to be able to communicate with each other in a fairly sophisticated fashion. If you’ve seen the BBC’s Frozen Planet episode in which the whales make waves to wash seals off the ice and into the water, you’ll know what they can by communicating with each other. Scientists have been able to interpret the noises they make, and have even noticed that different families of orcas have their own lingo.

Pilot whales also communicate with each other, but their language hasn’t been decoded yet, and that’s where Whale FM comes in. The website holds a database of whale sounds, with a visual spectogram of the sound. Participants match the sounds, and help to sort them into categories. With sometimes faint noises recorded on underwater microphones and the fuzzy spectograms, the task is better suited to human eyes and ears than to a computer. And by inviting ‘citizen scientists’ to contribute, the site can sift through more sounds and cross check them far faster than a small team of scientists.

As an added bonus, when you listen to a snippet of whale song, you can see where in the world it was recorded, and what the whale is called – or at least what the marine biologists decided to call it – Winka, Lennox, or Geoffrey. But who knows, if we get to the bottom of pilot whale song, perhaps we’ll know what they’re called in whale too…

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