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Eyes on the deep

ONC’s Maia Hoeberechts monitors a live video feed. Photo: UVic Photo Services.

Ocean Networks Canada (ONC), a University of Victoria initiative that has operated ocean observatories in the waters around Vancouver Island for a decade, has always counted on citizen scientists from around the world to help monitor and comment on the real-time camera and video feeds posted on its website. The Digital Fishers program, developed jointly by UVic’s Centre for Global Studies and ONC, includes more than 1,000 amateur scientists who monitor the network’s live feeds and participate in studies like the recent sablefish count.

Beating the algorithm

Earlier this year, more than 500 volunteers from around the world helped to view deep-sea video samples from the observatory in Barkley Canyon and to estimate numbers of sablefish, also known as black cod. The objective was to test how amateur scientists performed in comparison to the counts of an expert biologist, a class of undergraduate students and a computer algorithm monitoring the same video segments.

All the human observers proved better at fish-counting than the algorithm.

And those who had some training did almost as well as the biologist. 

Taking citizen science seriously

“Knowing that citizen scientists can be called upon to help experts analyze vast amounts of data generated by the observatories offers tremendous potential to increase the network’s vital impact, enrich human understanding, improve commercial fisheries management, and protect life under the sea,” says Maia Hoeberechts, ONC associate director of user services and a co-author of the recent study. Read more about this study.

Several years ago, a 14-year-old boy in Ukraine became the first in the world to spot an elephant seal diving to a depth of almost one kilometre to eat a hagfish—something that scientists had speculated might be possible but had never seen. He caught the extraordinary underwater action while watching the network’s live video streams from the seafloor. More on that story.

The Centre for Global Studies collaborated with ONC on creating the digital fishers software that the network uses to connect with its citizen scientists. The program was funded by Canada’s Advanced Research and Innovation Network (CANARIE). More on this initiative.

More about international research at UVic

Photos

Author

  • Jody Paterson

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