International Walrus Day
This International Walrus Day, WWF-UK and British Antarctic Survey (BAS) are annoucing their next phase in looking for the public's help to search for and count walrus in thousands of satellite images taken from space. Their aim is to learn more about how walrus populations are impacted by the climate crisis.
Walrus are facing the reality of the climate crisis and we need to know more about how they are affected. WWF-UK and BAS are asking the public to become 'walrus detectives' and help contribute to conservation science by searching for and counting walrus in the thousands of satellite images.
Over five years, the project, which is in cooperation with scientists around the Arctic, aims to carry out the first ever whole population census of Atlantic and Laptev walrus using satellite imagery and explore what might happen to them in the context of rapid climate change. This will help scientists to better understand the impact of climate change on populations of this iconic species and help safeguard their future.
The climate and nature crisis is already upon us. This year alone we've hit record temperatures around the world, from the UK to the Arctic, and global wildlife population sizes have plummeted by 69% on average since 1970.
The Arctic is in meltdown, putting walrus and other species that live there at risk. The climate crisis is causing the Arctic to warm about three times faster than the global average, and the sea ice that walrus depend on is disappearing at a staggering rate. Summer Arctic sea ice extent is shrinking by 12.6% per decade as a result of warming temperatures.
With your help, WWF-UK are finding out more about threats to walrus and their Arctic home. Since October 2021, thousands of you have taken part in the Walrus From Space project, searching nearly half a million images. This is vital in helping scientists to understand how the climate crisis is affecting walrus populations in the Arctic.
Play your part. Become a walrus detective and help bring our world back to life.
How The Project Will Work
This census of the whole population of Atlantic and Laptev walrus using satellite imagery will enhance existing knowledge and help assess future change.
Spanning thousands of miles of coastline across Russia, Greenland, Norway and Canada, will help to better understand how these populations might change over time. Satellites allow WWF-UK to learn more about walrus populations without disturbing them.
By using satellites to search for walrus, WWF-UK can cover vast areas, many of which would normally be difficult and time-consuming to access. This can then be repeated annually for a total of at least five years to help see changes over time and compare this to their changing environment.
The information gathered with the help of the public for this project, coupled with the knowledge of other research groups, and local, and Indigenous communities of the Arctic, will be crucial to their conservation efforts.
By taking part, you will be a part of a collective wanting to understand the impacts of rapid climate change on walrus populations.
The Counting Phase
In 2021, the public helped review more than half a million images, searching for walrus. Walrus detectives found walrus in 55 of these images.
From 4th December 2022, the public will be asked to place points on individual walrus if walrus can be distinguished from one another or draw outlines around the tight group of walrus in those 55 images.
The counting phase includes 52 walrus groups (haul-outs), and will be open for three weeks, with the aim to get a minimum of nine different walrus detectives to count each image chip.
All image chips will be reviewed by experts too, to assess the accuracy of the counts made by the crowd. The image chips are those the crowd found when searching the 2020 images.
In July 2022, the Walrus from Space team - made up of scientists from WWF-UK, and British Antarctic Survey, in collaboration with scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute - visited Svalbard, Norway to carry out research that will help to validate future walrus counts.
The team were based at Ny-Ålesund research station, from where they carried out the work over the course of one week. The team travelled by small boat to different walrus haul-outs with the aim of gathering synchronous very high resolution satellite imagery, high-definition UAV (drone) imagery and ground counts to calibrate and verify satellite counts of Atlantic walrus.
The team is made up of a range of experts, including:
- Peter Fretwell, a Geographic Information Scientist at BAS
- Hannah Cubaynes, a research associate at BAS
- Jaume Forcada, a marine mammal expert and population biologist at BAS
- Rod Downie, Chief Adviser-Polar at WWF-UK
- Kit Kovacs, a senior research scientist in marine biology at Norwegian Polar Institute
- Christian Lydersen, a senior research scientist in marine biology at Norwegian Polar Institute
- Rune Jensen, leader of the Ny-Ålesund research station at the Norwegian Polar Institute
- Jan Ivar Pettersen, logistics manager of the Ny-Ålesund research station at the Norwegian Polar Institute
- Ingrid Kjerstad, a research advisor of the Ny-Ålesund research station at the Norwegian Polar Institute
- Emmanuel Rondeau, an award-winning filmmaker and photographer specialising in documenting wildlife conservation, science, and history
How To Take Part
- Visit the WWF-UK website (opens in new tab) where you will find more information and a link to the 'Walrus From Space' platform that is hosted by GeoHIVE.
- Create an account and then take a short tutorial on how to be a walrus detective.
- You will be able to test your walrus identifying, as well as counting skills and then get searching for and counting walrus in satellite imagery.
- Look out for some achievement milestones along the way!
- Become a walrus detective (opens in new tab) and count walrus from images taken from satellites.
Making A Difference
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International Walrus Day