Help is needed to count walruses from above

The World Wide Fund for Nature is looking for thousands of volunteer “walrus investigators” to help scientists conduct a population census of these animals by analyzing millions of satellite images from space. The strange initiative is called “walrus from spaceIt was launched in cooperation with the British Antarctic Survey, a British government organization dealing with scientific research and publication in Antarctica. The goal of the census is to understand their number, how they behave and how to better protect walruses, whose populations and habitats are increasingly threatened by climate change.

I’m Trichy (Odobenus rosmarus) inhabits a vast territory that occupies various parts of the Arctic Ocean and the subarctic seas of the Northern Hemisphere, from areas off the coasts of Russia and Norway to those off Greenland and Canada. It weighs from a few hundred kilograms to nearly 2 tons, is up to 3.5 meters long and can live up to 40 years: it has a thick layer of fat that protects it from freezing cold and is famous for its tusks, which both serve to help you climb on icy shelves from the water and defend yourself.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – the international body recognized by the United Nations that assesses species of animals and plants at risk of extinction – has classified walruses as animals. Exhibition, mainly due to climate change and the routes of merchant ships interfering with their environment and activities.

According to WWF, More abundant population It is the Pacific walrus, which contains about 200 thousand specimens. Those that scientists would like to analyze with the help of volunteers are samples of the Atlantic walrus and the Laptev sea fauna (part of the Arctic Ocean northeast of Siberia), which will be about 25,000 and 5,000, respectively.

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“Estimating walrus populations using traditional methods is very difficult, because walruses live in very remote areas,” Al . said Washington Post Hannah Cowens, one of the British Antarctic Survey researchers involved in the project. However, satellite images allow to solve this problem because they cover large areas in addition to allowing scientists to conduct their analyzes without interfering with the activities of walruses, which are highly susceptible to external noise and disturbances.

Cowens explained that searching, identifying and studying all populations of walruses in the Atlantic Ocean and the Laptev Sea requires observing a “mountain of images”, which a small group of scientists will not be able to analyze on their own, which is why the help of volunteers is needed. The project aims to involve 500,000 people around the world who, over the next five years, will have the task of examining satellite images and sharing their observations with scientists from different stations in the Arctic and various local indigenous communities.

Like many other species, walruses suffer greatly from the consequences of global warming on their habitat and population.

The North Pole is one of the most vulnerable regions of the planet Global Warming It is estimated that it is heating up about twice as fast as most of the rest of the planet. In the fall of 2020, for example, anxiety was observed Delayed ice formation In the Laptev Sea, which is necessary for the production of new seasonal ice: moreover, at the beginning of summer, the ice began to melt prematurely and sooner than usual.

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Snowmelt is a huge problem for walruses, for several reasons.

First, walruses do not spend most of their time on land but on masses of floating ice formed by frozen surface waters, where they rest, reproduce, and feed. If the ice disappears, the animals will have to rest on the ground, with great danger The masses and struggles between them.

In addition, walruses must swim longer distances in search of forage for the thousands of shellfish and crustaceans they eat every day. In contrast, the animals they eat are threatenedocean acidification, due to an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide dissolved in the water, which complicates the life of fish and prevents the normal development of mollusks and crustaceans. The thaw also opens up new avenues for merchant shipping and other activities that endanger the walrus’ habitat.

Rod Downey, WWF Arctic Circle Advisor, He said That walruses “are an iconic species of enormous cultural value to Arctic peoples, but climate change is melting their homes.” Under these circumstances, Downey noted, it’s easy to feel “helpless,” but the project “gives people the opportunity to do something tangible to understand species threatened by the climate crisis and help protect their future.”

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