Excerpt: [A]s the University of Manitoba’s Whiskerprint Project shows, citizen science can not only aid researchers, but also cultivate the next generation of environmental stewards and enrich STEM education among fledgling scientists.

Led by University of Manitoba professor and behavioral ecologist Dr. Jane Waterman, the Whiskerprint Project is pioneering the use of whisker pattern analysis to identify individual polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba. In an interview with Mongabay-Wildtech, Waterman addressed the need to identify and track individuals in order to investigate bear behaviors and interactions, potential human-polar bear conflict, and impacts of climate change on the bears – whose habitat requires sea ice currently under threat. The “virtual mark-and-capture” method of identification and data collection offers a noninvasive process through which direct human contact with polar bears can be limited.

[A]s a polar bear’s whiskers grow, they part the bear’s fur, revealing spots where the animal’s black skin can be visible against its white coat. These spots create a distinctive pattern on each side of the bear’s face that can be used to distinguish individuals from each other. An algorithm developed by software developer and evolutionary biologist Dr. Carlos Anderson has allowed the research team to match whisker patterns from polar bear profiles. While similar to a NASA algorithm created to map stars and adapted to identify spot patterns of whale sharks, Anderson’s software further allows the polar bear researchers to compare the size, shape, and location of facial spots in relation to each other.

Source: Pedris, L., 2017. Spot the pattern: Whisker-prints and citizen science, 15 September 2017. Available at https://news.mongabay.com/wildtech/2017/09/spot-the-pattern-whisker-prints-citizen-science/ [Last accessed 3 October 2017].