Citizen Science

Penguin Watch: Serious Fun

September 23, 2014

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King Penguins on the march at Right Whale Beach, South Georgia Island. Photo © Steve Gould.

What is Penguin Watch?

Do cute penguins make you squee*?

OK, maybe not. But it’s hard not to like penguins. And now — through Penguin Watch — you can help conserve them just by looking at & clicking on penguin photos Penguin Watch uploads to its site.

It’s serious work, helping scientists identify penguin colonies of concern. Penguin Watch needs citizen scientists like you to mark the penguins in their camera trap images. Your participation helps:

*   Understand how threats to the ecosystem are affecting penguins.
*   Develop a computer program that recognizes penguins in these images.
*   Mark these colonies for improved protection.

Why is Penguin Watch Important? 

Penguins may be popular, but there are a lot of things that we don’t know about them and we need to know more because the Southern Ocean (where they live) faces a lot of threats.

Penguins can be affected by climate change shifting the patterns of ice in their habitat, fisheries that compete with penguins for food, and human disturbance.

Penguin Watch’s scientists hope that data collected will provide further support for marine protected areas and inform where to place them in locations with threatened colonies.

Penguins caught on a Penguin Watch camera trap. Photo courtesy of Penguin Watch.
Penguins caught on a Penguin Watch camera trap. Photo courtesy of Penguin Watch.

Without your help, this work would be impossible. Many of the cameras are placed in locations so remote that it wouldn’t be feasible to have researchers located there. And they receive so many images that penguin researchers do not have time to view all of them.

In fact, Penguin Watch has 50 cameras each taking between 8 to 96 pictures a day. Even with the power of the crowd, they expect to produce more data than people alone can categorize.

That’s why they’re using your observations to build a computer program that can recognize penguins, chicks, and eggs all on it’s own. 

How Can You Get Involved with Penguin Watch?

A brief tutorial gets you ready to look at pictures and start tagging the penguins, chicks, eggs and other animals.

Zooniverse, a collection of citizen science projects, houses the project, so you can sign in to track your data.

There’s a handy guide at the bottom of the screen to help you differentiate chicks from adults (some look surprisingly alike, especially from a distance).

Species included in this data set are Gentoo, Chinstrap, Adelie, King, and Rockhopper.

Visit the discussion forum if you run into trouble or just want to chat about an awesome photo.

Penguin Watch says you shouldn’t worry about mistakes or about failing to mark all of the penguins (there’s an “it’s okay to stop” message at 30). To maximize the accuracy and completeness of the data, multiple people will view all of the images.

For updates on the project and penguin conservation news, see the Penguin Lifelines blog.

Come back and tell us what you’ve learned in the comments.

*Squee: Google defines the verb as “squeal in delight or excitement.”

Is there a citizen science project that you think deserves more attention? Contact Lisa Feldkamp, lfeldkamp[at] or leave a comment below with a link to make a recommendation for Citizen Science Tuesday.

Lisa Feldkamp

Lisa loves all things citizen science and enjoys learning about everything that goes on four legs, two wings or fins - she even finds six and eight-legged critters fascinating at a safe distance. She has a PhD in Classical Literature and Languages from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and enjoys reading Greek and Roman literature or talking about mythology in her spare time. More from Lisa

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