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Mongabay: Spot the pattern: Whisker-prints and citizen science

October 2, 2017 — 

As Mongabay reports

  • University of Manitoba researchers are pioneering the use of whisker pattern analysis software to identify and track polar bears in Canada.
  • Whisker print identification can aid polar bear researchers in investigating bear behaviors and interactions, assessing and mitigating potential human-polar bear conflict, and evaluating the potential impacts of climate change on the bears.
  • The integration of citizen science into the Whiskerprint Project has helped researchers to collect the bears’ images for identification and raise awareness of the importance of polar bear conservation, while enhancing STEM education for local students.

Recent advancements in technology and social media have spurred the growth of citizen science, a phenomenon through which non-scientists contribute to the collection of scientific data. According to Nature, results collected by citizen scientists “can be valuable and can help both to generate data and to inform policy.” More importantly, as the University of Manitoba’s Whiskerprint Project shows, citizen science can not only aid researchers, but also cultivate the next generation of environmental stewards and enrich STEM education among fledgling scientists.

Led by University of Manitoba professor and behavioral ecologist Dr. Jane Waterman, the Whiskerprint Project is pioneering the use of whisker pattern analysis to identify individual polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba. In an interview with Mongabay-Wildtech, Waterman addressed the need to identify and track individuals in order to investigate bear behaviors and interactions, potential human-polar bear conflict, and impacts of climate change on the bears – whose habitat requires sea ice currently under threat. The “virtual mark-and-capture” method of identification and data collection offers a noninvasive process through which direct human contact with polar bears can be limited….


Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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