SealSpotter – People Powered Research. Australian fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus) play a significant role in Australia's marine ecosystems, particularly around Phillip Island (Millowl). The fur seal colony at Seal Rock, off the south-western tip of Phillip Island, is home to approximately 20,000 seals. In 2016, Telematics Trust and The Penguin Foundation provided funding for a drone (unmanned aerial vehicle - UAV) for the conservation team at Phillip Island Nature Parks. The use of a UAV allowed research scientists to monitor the seal colony without causing disturbance to the seals. The UAV was used to determine just how many seals are being entangled in marine debris, enabling the team to rescue more seals with each visit taken to Seal Rocks. The funding also provided accredited UAV training for research staff, as well as contributed towards a further research field trip. This project included visiting key fur seal breeding colonies in Victoria to monitor the health of the ecosystem – comparing traditional methods with the UAV estimate of pup numbers and engaging in citizen science partnerships.
The drone is also utilised by the seal research to team to assist with capturing more accurate data for seal population counts. The Nature Parks Conservation team has also developed “SealSpotter”, a citizen science portal. This portal allows anyone with a computer to enjoy the rare opportunity of a “birds-eye view” of the seals’ behaviour, without disturbing them in their natural environment. By counting seals across the several hundred images captured by the drone, users can contribute vital data and information to the conservation management and protection of our oceans. This allows Phillip Island Nature Parks research scientists to analyse the population and marine debris entanglement data faster and more accurately, leading to a greater understanding seal habitat and the threats they may encounter.
In 2021, the “SealSpotter” portal received unprecedented global interest - with people from 93 countries engaging. Although the official count for 2021 has concluded, the portal remains open for anyone interested in learning more or continuing to contribute. The research team is grateful for The Penguin Foundation support and the vital input from the 137 citizen scientists and looks forward to seeing you next year for the “Annual SealSpotter Challenge”, which runs from June 4-19, 2022.
- To determine how many seals are being entangled in marine debris, enabling the team to rescue more seals with each visit taken to Seal Rocks.
- The use of a UAV allowed research scientists to monitor the seal colony without causing disturbance to the seals.
- To capture more accurate data for seal population counts.
- To develop “SealSpotter”, a citizen science portal.