Citizen science helping endangered species
#Earth&Ocean A citizen science project aims to identify the threat of killer whales to Stellar sea lion colonies on the Alaskan Western Aleutian Islands.
Photos by NOAA Fisheries – Killer whales in waters close to a Stellar sea lion colony
According to Hasselman, Stellar sea lions in this area have experienced drastic population decline and were classified as threatened in 1990 under the United States Environmental Species Act (ESA). “There is a 94% decline in numbers from a population of approximately 265,000 to 30,000 at the lowest point, and while some areas are starting to see population increases, the western Aleutian is still experiencing declines.”
There is a distinct difference between the population numbers of Eastern Aleutian and Western Aleutian Steller sea lions, and while recovery plans have helped the eastern population, they have not helped western populations. “We want to know why,” Hasselman says.
UC Associate Professor Michelle LaRue says, “Alexa is looking at the interplay between an endangered species and population impact from potential predators. Similar dynamics could be at play in southern oceans, too, so understanding what’s going on, even in a small portion of a distant ocean, gives us insight into things we could potentially expect and look for in other areas.”
Hasselman says citizen science can play a key role in monitoring endangered species, “This is a fun and efficient way to process image data to help understand the potential threats of killer whales.”