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Two things I love the most about citizen science are:

  1. science starts with an observation.
  2. Humans spend a good percentage of time “observing.”

That means average citizens might be observing phenomenon that scientists are looking for every day. Tapping into non-scientists’ observations has great potential to advance science and lead to interesting questions.

amy Whale, breaching, Stellwagen Bank National...

From Wikipedia

Case in point: When Freddy Johansen, a tourist on a whale watching boat, took a photo of a humpback whale off the coast of Madagascar in 2001, he had no idea it would break a record for these long distant travelers. Because back in 1999, researchers had photographed the same whale. However, that photo was taken off the coast of Brazil. That’s a 9,800 kilometer journey at least and more than twice the distance of the typical seasonal migration! The previous record sat near 9,400 kilometers.

Additionally, this whale was a female. This is surprising because female whales travel much shorter distances than males, and the only other humpback known to travel from the South Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean was male.

This new record has researchers questioning how much we really know about whales. Some scientists are wondering if this indicates that migration patterns are changing in response to the previously endangered species’ recovery. From Nature News- Humpback Whale Breaks Migration Record:

Daniel Palacios, an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, says … Behaviours often change as population densities grow; for instance, animals may disperse to avoid competition for food…

The female could have been following prey, exploring new breeding habitats, responding to distant calls, or simply wandering astray. “We generally think of humpback whales as very well studied, but then they surprise us with things like this,” Palacios says. “Undoubtedly there are a lot of things we still don’t know about whale migration.”

Now you might be wondering why everyone is talking about this now when the photos were taken in 1999 and 2001. Are scientists really that inefficient? Not quite.

Spot patterns on whales' tails can be used like human fingerprints to identify individuals. Photo taken by Freddy Johansen

Back in 2001, Freddy Johansen didn’t know about the Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog that researchers use to compare photographs of spot patterns on whales’ tails and determine if they are of the same whale at different locations. However, he did recently upload his photo to Flickr where one whale researcher (Gale McCullough of Allied Whale: see her comment below!) often checks for such photos. Connecting these two photos lead to this record-breaking discovery and Freddy Johansen becoming a coauthor on a scientific paper.

Pretty cool if you ask me, and if you have any clear photos of whales’ tails like the one above, you can also submit them to the Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog. I wonder what other types of photos could be floating around the internet or in someone’s scrapbook with the potential to change what we know and make a scientist out of an unsuspecting citizen.

Quick Update 2:

Not only did the internet allow Gale McCullough to find Freddy Johansen’s photo, it allowed Freddy and Gale to find what I wrote! They both commented below, so be sure to check out the link to Freddy’s photo on Flickr with his retelling. Also, take a look at the comments on his photo and get a glimpse of how the story unfolded!

Gale also provides a great background story and explains how all the pieces fell into place for this discovery (read the first comment on the photo).

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I’m posting this photo for Skywatch Friday from my duck banding adventure at Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge to highlight National Wildlife Refuge Week (10/10-10/16).

Though you can’t see them in the photo, there’s a few ducks and Sandhill Cranes out there that I had spotted with my binoculars!

And one more photo from Rydell National Wildlife Refuge. We Minnesotans love our many statues:

Check with your local refuge to see if there are any events going on near you!

Check out more skies from around the word at Skywatch Friday!

Quick Links 10.13

I recently discovered twitter. I had of course heard of it before and occasionally stumbled over there. But now that I’ve actually signed up and am using it, I am overwhelmed by the flow of information. There is so much to read!

Anyway, here are some links I’ve stumbled across recently. I know I wanted to add more, but I’ve read so much that I’ve lost track of them…

  • National Wildlife Refuge Week (10/10-10/16)- To find a local event, check the calendar from the Fish and Wildlife Service or check with your local refuge. I found one event in Minnesota that wasn’t listed on the F&WS event site.
  • Earth Science Week (10/10-10/16)- “Exploring Energy- the theme of Earth Science Week 2010, will engage young people and the public in learning about Earth’s energy resources.”
  • It’s a day late, but… 10/10/10 Global Work Party happened yesterday to face the climate crisis. I helped plant trees for the event! Although 10/10/10 is over, you can see inspiring pictures from around the world and get involved in other ways through 350.org

Frivolous Fact Friday!

Friday feature of facts that I find fascinating but others seem to find frivolous

I’m doing a new weekly feature called Frivolous Fact Friday! I came up with the idea after I was shot down by a friend who is in charge of the daily trivia board at her work. She was having trouble coming up with a trivia question the other day, so I told her to ask:

“What is the only known member of the order Carnivora that is able to taste artificial sweeteners?” Continue Reading »

Goodbye Leaves

 

Most of the leaves have fallen here, but the sky is still beautiful. Now the understory plants get their days in the sun before the cold really sets in.

See more skies from around the word at Skywatch Friday!

Quick Links 10.6

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