Can you see them? A crowdsourcing project asks you look for walruses on Canadian sea ice and other regions using satellite images. | SkyNews
Can you see them? A crowdsourcing project asks you look for walruses on Canadian sea ice and other regions using satellite images. (naturepl.com/Tony Wu/WWF)

A new project needs “walrus detectives” to examine satellite images

A new study on walruses is asking the public to help count their numbers on satellite pictures.

A new crowdsourcing project invites the public to become walrus “detectives,” searching out the threatened species on Canadian sea ice and other regions using satellite images.

The study, led by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the British Antarctic Survey using data from Maxar Technologies satellites, opened a web page inviting the public to survey satellite images of walruses taken from space. The goal is to have ordinary people and scientists alike create a census of Atlantic walruses (which are present in Canada) and Laptev walruses (which tend to live around the North Pole and subarctic seas) through 2024.

The new environmentally focused project takes place during a year when United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said humanity is at a “code red” due to the accelerating effects of climate change, which is disproportionately affecting northern regions such as the Canadian Arctic. Guterres was responding to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report gathering numerous data points on global warming, and released in August.

Using high-resolution images, people can identify, count and later estimate how many Atlantic and Laptev walruses there are at certain locations. | SkyNews
Using high-resolution images, people can identify, count and later estimate how many Atlantic and Laptev walruses there are at certain locations. (Maxar GEOhive)

The international discussion on global warming is adding to the concern about Atlantic walruses, which have already been identified as a species of “special concern” due to the intersection between their biological characteristics and environmental threats, the WWF notes on its species page.

The species’ current range is the Canadian eastern Arctic, along with Russia, Greenland and Norway. Populations in the St. Lawrence, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia regions have already gone extinct, in large part due to hunts in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries for goods such as meat, ivory and blubber.

“WWF-Canada wants to work using non-invasive methods to better understand where walrus are, how many there are, and ultimately share this information with local communities and regulators,” WWF media manager Ryan Thompson told SkyNews in an email, relaying information from the working group participating in the project.

“The public will be engaged to review the new imagery collected each summer until 2024,” Thompson and the team said. The gathered walrus estimates will help scientists with population estimates and longer-term projections, they added, and will be added to other points of data such as ice density and ocean acidity to come up with conservation strategies.

Visit WWF’s website for more details.

Get a Free Digital Issue