public asked to count Arctic mammals in satellite images

People are being asked to become “walrus detectives” and search satellite images to help protect Arctic creatures.

Walruses, large marine mammals living around the Arctic, are threatened by climate change, which is warming the region much faster than rising temperatures globally and rapidly changing their habitats.

Conservation organization WWF and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) are asking the public to join the Walrus from Space project to try to help them.

Thousands of walrus images collected in 2021 by space technology and intelligence company Maxar Technologies have been uploaded to the citizen science platform.

In the armchair, wildlife watchers are asked to examine the pictures and count the walruses to help scientists build population data on the Atlantic and Laptev walruses living in Russia’s Laptev Sea.

A group of walruses retreated to shore

Walruses are social animals that go out in large groups (Emmanuel Rondeau/WWF UK/PA)

Led by scientists from across the Arctic, the five-year project aims to conduct a census using satellite imagery and explore what might happen to walruses in the context of rapid climate change.

Large, social animals that gather in groups known as flocks, clumps or herds require large areas of shallow water with large numbers of shellfish to eat and places to rest nearby.

The counting phase of the Walrus from Space plan is open from January 17 to February 7.

It came after WWF and BAS science teams visited cetacean resting beaches in Svalbard in the Norwegian Arctic to calibrate and verify satellite images of ground walruses.

They also saw how real the threat of climate change is for walruses in the region, which is warming faster than anywhere else in the Arctic and may be warming five to seven times faster than the global average.

Two walruses in front of the sea and mountains

Experts warn (Emmanuel Rondeau/WWF UK/PA) Walruses threatened by climate change

Rod Downie, WWF UK’s chief polar advisor, said: “The walrus are large, powerful animals, but they are also becoming increasingly vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis as the sea ice literally melts from beneath them.

“What we are trying to do with the public’s help is to better understand walruses, how they are affected by the climate crisis now and how they might respond in a climate-changed future.

“We do this to provide evidence to support the species’ conservation throughout its range.”

BAS conservation scientist Hannah Cubaynes said: “The Arctic is a large and remote region, which makes it difficult for scientists to study, and we know that walruses can be very easily disturbed by human presence.

“This is why we worked with Maxar, a provider of satellite imagery and data, to collect images of the walrus rescue before uploading it to the company’s GeoHive platform.

“We’re asking people in the house to sign up to help us search for walruses and count them later.

“But you don’t have to travel to the other side of the world – you can do it from the comfort of your own home.”

To learn more and participate in the census, people can visit

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