If you’re contemplating a winter vacation somewhere warm, spare a thought for citizen science, and pack your digital camera.
The Large Marine Vertebrates Project (Lamave), based out of the Philippines, would love your holiday snaps of whale sharks. One of the largest fish species on the planet, weighing an average of 47,000 lbs, the whale shark is a filter feeder. They hoover up plankton by the boatload, and inhabit all tropical and warm-temperate seas.
Apparently, they also have unique patterns of spots and stripes, making it possible to tell one whale shark from another, and that’s where you can help. If you spot a whale shark in between trips to the bar, try to get a good photo of it to send to the project. Using software originally designed by NASA to identify stars Lamave will analyze the photo to see which shark you’re looking at. This will help them learn more about how and when whale sharks migrate, how far they go, and what their swimming habits are in general.
“The Philippines is home to over 7,100 islands, making it the fourth longest coastline in the world,” say project organizers. “The size and distribution of the country makes the assessment and conservation of the marine resources challenging. Accordingly, citizen science that engages locals and tourists in research and data collection is essential to conservation in this region. Specifically, we depend on divers and amateur researchers to identify whale sharks as part of a global effort to better understand and protect these animals.”
Image credit: Zac Wolf, via Wikimedia Commons