An app for citizen scientists to take part in the effort to monitor the location of orcas has been launched this month.
Called Orcasound, the web app will live stream audio from hydrophones (underwater microphones) that will be placed near the San Juan Islands. This will help experts to locate and send boats to collect fecal samples or prey fragments to the area as soon as possible.
Orcasound And The Value Of Citizen Scientists
A computer algorithm currently analyzes the audio from a hydrophone and pinpoints the sound coming from orcas. However, the aid of human listeners is invaluable.
For a long time, citizen scientists have been useful at detecting orca noises from the trove of other sounds such as shipping traffic or the presence of other animals. Orcasound will make it easier for citizen scientists to access the audio and then alert experts of the marine mammals' whereabouts.
"We want to make it really easy for citizen scientists to listen to signals," stated Scott Veirs, a bioacoustian and lead researcher of Orcasound.
Orcasound has actually been around for years, but it was relaunched this month to make it a lot more user-friendly. The app picks up the audio coming from several hydrophones in San Juan Island and Haro Strait. There is another one at Bush Point, but it is currently under repair.
Once a citizen scientist has identified the presence of an orca from the audio livestream, they can log their observation into a shared Google Spreadsheet for analysis. Users can also shoot the people behind the project an e-mail.
The researchers also hope to one day add a button on the web app in order to make it easier for the citizen scientists to report orca sighting. For now, Orcasound can be accessed via any major internet browser on a computer or a mobile phone.
Southern Orca Conservation
Southern resident orcas are mostly spotted off the coast of Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. They feed on chinook salmon which are dying off, leaving the orca population starving.
Earlier this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration observed a 4-year-old orca that was rapidly losing weight and growing weaker.