I am fascinated by walrus, which is why I researched and wrote WALRUS SONG (Candlewick, 2021). But when I recently saw a web link entitled Walrus from Space, I scratched my head. Large sea mammals visiting from other planets?! Well, I checked it out, of course. Turns out, this is a call for volunteers for a 5-year research project co-led by the World Wildlife Foundation-UK and the British Antarctic Survey. The Walrus from Space mission is to gather information about walrus populations to help scientists, countries, and local communities understand the impact of climate changes on walrus Arctic habitats.
I couldn’t wait to sign up. I’ll admit to wondering, How can a children’s author without a science degree help scientists? The introductory information reassured me. With some basic training, Walrus Detectives of any background can analyze satellite images to identify whether there are any walrus visible. So I completed the easy sign-up, and moved on to the brief online training course.
The program took about a half hour. I was shown a variety of images, with arrows and clear explanations, to see what walrus look like from space. Since the photos of haul-outs (gatherings of multiple walrus) are taken by satellite, these huge animals look like tiny brick-colored pearls, pebbles, or ants! Other training images and lessons cautioned me to not mistake rusty barrels for walrus, and to not make assumptions about images of poor quality. A zoom in and out function helped with choosing which button to click: Walrus Present; No Walrus Present; Poor Image.
WALRUS SONG, haul-out illustration by © Timothy Basil Ering
At the end, I took a quiz to see if I had learned my lessons. But it’s been a while since I was in school, and I was a bit nervous about whether I’d still be a good student. So, okay, I’ll confess that when I got my score back after completing the training quiz, I was a little embarrassed. I got only 14 correct of 20! Maybe I’d be the first volunteer that they turned away! But again, the online program reassured me. Errors are common, especially for new volunteers. I had a chance to go over each mistake, and an explanation was provided to guide me to do better in the future. Also, I was told that eight other walrus detectives look at the same images before all our decisions are tallied to determine which images a scientist will review.
I am proud to say that I have already earned a Bronze Badge for analyzing 50 images! Rather than browsing social media, I plan to browse satellite images when taking a break from writing. I’ll be making my own very small contribution to improving the world —especially for walrus! I hope that the Walrus from Space project will contribute to solutions to slow global warming and loss of Arctic ice so that there will be happy, long-term answers to the question posed in the last lines of WALRUS SONG:
Walrus, by and in the sea. What will his tomorrow be?
Visit the Walrus from Space site to learn more and see what walrus look like from outer space. And perhaps join me as a volunteer Walrus Detective!