Marine Mammal Observation Network – Data Information

Objectives and Benefits

The gathering of information about the distribution of marine species and other marine mammals by ROMM, by its members and by citizen observers, aims to better understand the distribution, movements and behaviors of populations of cetaceans and seals within that frequent the waters of the St. Lawrence. The data collected over several years from a vast territory and made publicly available supplements the data collected by the scientific community

The main objectives of the tool for community input are:

  • Enabling citizens interested in conservation issues of marine mammals to participate in efforts to protect these animals while generating and sharing new knowledge in that respect;
  • Collecting as much possible data from the observation of marine mammals based on the fact that thousands of people travel the waters of the St. Lawrence during the summer period;
  • Collecting data on the presence within the St. Lawrence of particular marine species such as the leatherback turtle, basking sharks, sunfish and Bluefin tuna;
  • Collecting additional data to enable better scientific understanding of the species;
  • Developing an updated portrait of the distribution of marine mammals annually;
  • Making available a large community database to anyone interested in learning about St. Lawrence marine mammals.

Benefits

This associative project between SLGO and ROMM helps make ROMM’s data available and researchable by both the general public and research managers from research institutions, ministries and other conservation organizations that could benefit from it. As for ROMM, this project allows:

  • To reduce the workload related to information requests and references by the general public regarding data;
  • To publicize the existence of data;
  • To facilitate the communication and collaboration between the community’s different stakeholders;
  • To contribute to the welfare of the St. Lawrence marine mammals with the implementation of effective management measures.

In addition, significant community data from the observation of marine mammals will be generated and made public through this project.

Methodology

The data collected by the ROMM come from three different sources:

  1. Data from member observers;
  2. Data collected systematically by the ROMM team;
  3. Community data (crowdsourcing).

In the sake of uniformity, the displayed and downloadable data on the SLGO’s interface are only presence data. However, it should be noted that part of the database, the data from ROMM scientific monitoring (2), are presence/absence data. If you wish to obtain the complete database including the absences, please contact directly the ROMM: info@romm.ca .

1. In regard to ROMM’s environmental observation project, data harvesting is ensured by naturalists, officers and/or captains. When resources permit, ROMM shares training tools with all members of its observation projects, as well as information regarding targeted species. A protocol as well as an observation checklist has been created for that purpose. Thus, during every outing, team members are expected to identify marine mammals (seals and whales), sharks and sea turtles as they are encountered. A variety of information is collected during each observation and recorded on personalized data grids (e.g., observation period, species encountered, number of individuals, location, etc.). The collected data are routed to the network, compiled in a database (Excel) and later analyzed. The analysis is done for each member’s recordings individually. That being said, what is presented in the annual report is an overall picture of the season as a whole.

NOTE

Looking at the distribution map of ROMM marine mammal data, you will find that there is a location point off Forillon (Pointe de la Gaspésie) where a few thousand data were collected (map 1). These are data from the Bay of Gaspé Cruises. In their data grid, this company does not indicate the precise geolocation of the collected observations, but rather pre-identified large zones of their observation territory (map 2). When the data is located on maps, the ROMM indicated a central geo-referenced point for each of the zones, thus generating a large number of observations for the same georeferenced point.

2. Studies such as those conducted within ROMM’s marine observation activities involve placing qualified observers on observation vessels to systematically collect data according to established protocols

Equipped with binoculars, GPS (global positioning system) and data grids, observers collect information on different species of whales and seals including notes about their particular behavior. They also record data on the approach, the number and types of boats present around marine mammals in any given sector. Note that such data recording is done systematically throughout the entire observation industry and not specifically in relation to cetacean encounters.

3. Finally, community data recorded directly by citizens on the SLGO website are all automatically validated by the ROMM team before being made available to the public. Indeed, data from citizen science have their limits in terms of usage and are not generally accounted for as scientific. Some of the reasons are:

  • Citizen abilities in regard to the observation of marine mammals and other marine species are variable; misidentifications of species are expected. For this reason, it is requested that observers note the characteristic traits they observe in order to validate their observations;
  • Important variability during data collection often result in rare species being reported in large quantities (because they are rare, people tend to report seeing them more), while other more common species are not necessarily reported (because they are deemed too common, not impressive enough);
  • The difficulty in estimating the abundance of species observed can over - or under - inflate the number of individuals numbered, making it more difficult to validate data recorded by citizens.

Data from environmental observation project ROMM collected by observer members, as well as data from projects having a more scientific connotation, such as marine observation activities from MOA, are not available in real time on the SLGO platform due to the time it takes to capture, compile and analyze the data. Findings are only made available the spring following after the summer observation. Only community data recorded by citizens are available within days after validation.

Description of database content

The database made accessible to everyone contains the following information:

  • Observed species;
  • Geolocation coordinates (latitude and longitude);
  • Observation date;
  • The number of individuals observed;
  • Comments (if applicable);
  • Photographs (if applicable).

Note: Any lack of data does not mean an absence of species, rather, that the attendance of species is not known.

This data dissemination project was undertaken with the financial support of: