May 27, 2014

Calling all citizen scientists! University of Victoria researchers need volunteers to help them analyze deep-sea videos—60 seconds at a time—and help expand our understanding of marine ecosystems.

Digital Fishers is a crowd-sourced ocean observation “game” that recruits web browsers to look through thousands of hours of video archived every year from undersea cameras. It was developed by UVic’s Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) and Centre for Global Studies and is funded by Canada’s Advanced Research and Innovation Network (CANARIE).

ONC’s two large undersea observatories off the west coast of BC and a smaller observatory in the Arctic Ocean collect up to 50 terabytes of data per year. Video from seafloor cameras alone equals over 5.5 terabytes—enough to fill more than 12,000 DVDs.

Computer software isn’t yet sophisticated enough to automatically identify a wide variety of animals and other features. And it’s a daunting task for scientists to watch so much footage. Since Digital Fishers was launched in 2012, more than 2,200 web-based volunteers around the world have made over 100,000 observations. The record-holder hails from the US, with over 18,900 annotations.

Each Digital Fishers campaign focuses on a specific marine organism. The goal of this new campaign is to count sablefish, also known as black cod, that appear in a series of one-minute clips—almost 1,500 clips in total. The game has five levels, with “reward cards” earned as a volunteer’s experience grows. In the meantime, players are helping to document the abundance of sablefish, a commercially valuable species.

“It’s a perfect outlet for amateur scientists, from retirees to parents with children,” says Jodie Walsh, Digital Fishers program coordinator. “They’re all learning about the ocean, and doing something meaningful at the same time.”

Learn more about Digital Fishers at