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Researchers Enlist Internet Users To Help Monitor Penguins


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

The 2005 film "March of the Penguins" took us to the edge of the world where we got an inside look at the life of penguins - their migration patterns, daily routines, even their love lives. Well, for those of you out there who are craving more penguin in your own lives, here is your chance. A group of scientists in the UK are trying to sort and catalog thousands of photographs of penguins and they're turning to the public for help. The project is called Penguin Watch. Caitlin Black is a penguin researcher at the University of Oxford, England, and she joins me from our studios in New York. Hi, Caitlin.

CAITLIN BLACK: Hi, Rachel. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Just start off by explaining how this whole thing works. Where do these pictures come from, first of all?

BLACK: Right now, we currently have over 50 cameras installed at over 30 sites, with a large range from the Antarctic Peninsula to the island of South Georgia to the Falkland Islands. At the moment, we're monitoring five species which includes Gentoo, Chinstrap, Adelie, Rockhopper, and King penguins. And data from the cameras provides us information on the winter behavior as well as the breeding success - so how the colonies are faring. So as you can imagine, the cameras have produced hundreds of thousands of images at this point which has become too much for just myself and our team to annotate.

MARTIN: Alright, so I'm on this website right now, In this moment, I can observe some of these photographs and theoretically help you by sharing some information about what I see?

BLACK: Exactly. So you login to the website and it will provide a short tutorial for you. And so I'm on the website, as well. And a random image from our hundreds of thousands we have will pop up for you. So it pops up. It asks you if there's an animal there. You click yes if there are like the penguins I see in mine.

MARTIN: I've got penguins in mine.

BLACK: And all we're asking is for you to click on adults, chicks, and eggs as you see them.

MARTIN: And how is it helpful to you, me just clicking on a photo and saying yes, there's a penguin here?

BLACK: It's very helpful for us. So there's a few things. We have a couple objectives. For instance, in the winter, it's logistically incredibly difficult to study winter behavior in these guys. So by clicking on the penguins for us, we're able to see how many are there in our cameras' view year round. As far as the eggs and chicks go, it helps us to understand breeding behavior.

MARTIN: So as I click through this, it's also giving me an option to talk with a scientist about this photo. What happens if I say yes?

BLACK: It brings you to a discussion webpage where you can talk with me and a few other moderators who know a bit more about their biology and what might be going on in the photo.

MARTIN: And you're sitting there, Caitlin, 24 hours a day, ready to respond me if I want to talk to you about a picture?

BLACK: Not quite 24 hours, but we do try to respond as much as possible.

MARTIN: And so I can just ask you any kind of question I have and you'll engage with me?

BLACK: Absolutely. So for instance, you know, what are they doing here? Are they on an egg? Or is this a chick or not? All of these sort of questions we can answer for you.

MARTIN: And how far along are you? I mean, how many photos did you start out with and how many do you still have to work through?

BLACK: Right now I think to date we have 175,000 images. And that doesn't include any of the ones we're getting back from this season. Each year, the data essentially doubles or triples. So we're really hoping the project can continue for a long time.

MARTIN: OK. The work is not done.


MARTIN: Everyone out there, get online and click on the penguin photos.

BLACK: Yes, please.

MARTIN: Caitlin Black is a penguin researcher at the University of Oxford, England. She joined us from our studios in New York. Caitlin, happy penguin watching.

BLACK: Thank you. To you, too, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.