Twice a day, every day, Kera Mathes hops aboard a ship that sets off from Long Beach Harbor in California. As education specialist at the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, she helps visitors aboard the ship identify the animals they see. Mathes also supervises the aquarium’s interns (college students and recent graduates), as they collect data and photograph the same creatures. Their information on blue and fin whales goes to the Cascadia Research Collective, an oceanic education and research organization. But for years the interns’ data—weather, time, position, and photos of every sea creature they observe—went unused. Mathes needed a way to share and use such valuable information.
So several years ago she decided to reach out to see if any other research organizations would be interested in the data and images of the other cetaceans. Mathes was in luck: Several researchers—including those at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—were interested in materials on cetaceans other than blue and fin whales. But there was a catch: first Mathes needed to organize the data and identify the cetaceans in the photographs.
That’s when Mathes says she turned to the public for help. Today, so-called “citizen scientists” can help identify the cetaceans in the images she and her interns collect on their ocean cruises so that scientists can translate the images into data for use in ocean conservation. Any member of the public (no science degree or training needed) who commits to helping Mathes four hours a week for at least three months can be a part of her program.