Ocean Sanctuaries’ Citizen Science Programs

Written by on April 3, 2015 in Other News, Sharks

Editor’s Note – Contributing MST writer Michael Bear is Citizen Science Project Director for Ocean Sanctuaries and a Featured Contributor with California Diver Magazine. He lives and works in San Diego.


In March of 2014, we established Ocean Sanctuaries as San Diego’s first ocean-related non-profit devoted almost exclusively to citizen science. There are many fine ocean non-profits in existence, but not too many specifically devoted to marine citizen science projects.

Sevengill shark.

Sevengill shark. Photo credit: Adventures in Librarianship via photopin cc.

Our shark programs began in 2009, with the Sevengill Shark ID Project, which began as a citizen science population dynamics study of the Sevengill shark in the San Diego area. Local divers began submitting video and stills from their GoPro cameras and it has snowballed into a serious scientific study, which has caught the attention of shark researchers, using the pattern recognition algorithms contained in a software program called ‘Wildbook.’

The architect of ‘Wildbook’ is Jason Holmberg, who originally developed it for use in identifying Whale Sharks, and is now working with Ocean Sanctuaries to customize the pattern recognition algorithm for use with Sevengill sharks, which have a unique freckling pattern or ‘fingerprint’ that can be used to identify individual animals in high definition photographs and video.

We hope to be able to identify individual animals which are returning from year to year to the La Jolla area to attain a greater understanding of the reasons for their annual return. Stomach content analysis will be done when possible as well.

Blue shark. Photo credit: Mike Bear.

Blue shark. Photo credit: Mike Bear.

The second shark citizen science program came about as the result of a fortuitous collaboration with the National Geographic Education division, which had been looking for individuals and non-profit groups to test their new citizen science data collection tool called ‘Fieldscope’. Working with National Geographic’s staff, we have customized Fieldscope to allow California divers to upload photos and document non-Sevengill shark sightings from anywhere along the coast as part of our Sharks of California program. In less than a year, we have already documented three great hammerheads, two great whites and one whale shark encounter, in addition to sightings of numerous smaller species of shark, such as horn sharks, leopard sharks, topes and angel sharks.

Finally, the third and probably most ambitious citizen science project we have planned for later in 2015, is a comprehensive survey of the marine life present on the former Canadian warship ‘Yukon,’ which was sunk in 2000 off the coast of San Diego, to act as an artificial reef to attract dozens of species of marine life, a task it has been stunningly successful at doing.

Our citizen science study will be a follow-up to the original one, done in 2005, by Dr. Ed Parnell of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the San Diego Oceans Foundation.

At Ocean Sanctuaries, we believe that the field of citizen science has finally come into its own in the 21st Century. With more and more divers and non-divers alike becoming aware of the critical state of both the oceans and even the planet itself, now is the time for citizen scientists to assist in the collection of scientific data in a scientifically sound manner, so that ocean managers can begin to assess what needs to be done to prevent further damage to the oceans.

To learn more:

Copyright © 2015 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.


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