Adelie penguins headed for the water. (iStock)

British and Australian scientists have come up with a way for you to simultaneously spend hours scanning online photos of adorable animals and not feel like you’re a drain on society.

In fact, they say they really need you to do it.

The scientists in question are penguin researchers at the University of Oxford and the Australian Antarctic Division. A couple of years ago, they set up dozens of cameras, some in very remote locations, to shoot images of penguins across Antarctica and sub-Antarctic islands.

The idea was to document how things like climate change, pollution and fishing might be affecting the little waddlers, some species of which are in decline. Are they breeding at different times or in different spots? Are there new predators lurking around? Penguins, the researchers say, are “considered sentinels of changes within their ecosystem.”

But because there are now more than 100 cameras and they take photos every hour, the scientists have amassed a collection of images far too huge to go through. That’s where you come in: As a volunteer for “Penguin Watch 2.0,” which is essentially a grand penguin census.

This map shows five penguin species and the locations of some of the cameras.


(Penguin Watch)

All you need to do is go to the project’s website, look at penguin photos and count the adults, fuzzy chicks, eggs and any other photobombing animals you see by clicking on each one. School groups can be assigned an entire penguin colony to monitor.

Here’s what a marked photo looks like:


(Penguin Watch)

“We can’t do this work on our own, and every penguin that people click on and count on the website — that’s all information that tells us what’s happening at each nest, and what’s happening over time,” lead researcher Tom Hart told the BBC.

Penguin Watch is one of an increasing number of “citizen science” projects that involve — and in some cases rely on — the public to collect and analyze wildlife and other data from the natural world.

If you’re more into bats than penguins, for example, you can listen to and classify bat calls at Bat Detective. If you want to know where your cat roams when it goes outside, enroll in the Cat Tracker project based out of North Carolina. Fancy a safari but can’t afford it? Tag aardvarks, antelopes and other African animals for Snapshot Serengeti.

And feel good about it! Science thanks you.

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