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Play Digital Fishers

Dec 16, 2011

Got 15 seconds to spare? We’re looking for a few hundred thousand volunteers to help analyze deep-sea videos—15 seconds at a time. We invite you to participate in ocean science research (no experience required!) via Digital Fishers, a new “citizen science” website. By playing Digital Fishers you’ll help researchers gather data from video, and unveil the mechanisms shaping the animal communities inhabiting the deep.

Sea star annotation
Annotating a video clip showing a sea star on the Endeavour ridge, depth 2158m. (Click to enlarge.)

We developed Digital Fishers together with the University of Victoria’s Centre for Global Studies (CfGS) and funded by CANARIE. Co-investigator Dr. Rod Dobell leads the involvement of CfGS with additional support from

Drowning in Video

Over our first two years of operations, NEPTUNE Canada has recorded thousands of hours of video, both during installation dives and from underwater cameras installed across our subsea network. All this video needs to be studied, but our software has not (yet) become sophisticated enough to automatically identify a wide variety of animals and other features. So the video needs to be reviewed by human eyes, but it’s a daunting task for scientists to watch so much footage and describe what they see – this is where you can help.

How to Play

Becoming a Digital Fisher is easy. Simply visit the project website, and watch a short 15 second segment of video. As you view various animals and your surroundings, you can describe what you see by selecting from the fields below the video screen. These fields include: sea life, water clarity, seafloor composition, and any other objects you see (natural or human made). There is also a comment field where you can add more information. Your “annotation” then gets attached to that segment back at the NEPTUNE Canada database.

The easy-to-use interface resembles (a bit!) the dashboard of a research submarine to give you the feeling of cruising about the ocean as you explore it from your computer. The cool part is you get to play a game and see interesting videos of our ocean, all while contributing to the scientific community. In other words, your annotation adds value to the raw video data and provides assistance to scientific users of the database. With a lot of visitors, each of the segments can be viewed more than once to make sure multiple people see the same thing, nothing gets missed, and researchers have a pretty good idea of what is found in that video.

Creature feature card
A creature feature card gained by completing a number of annotations in Digital Fishers. (Click to enlarge.)

There are five levels and in order to progress through the levels you have to complete a certain number of annotations (tags or descriptions) in order to gain creature feature cards. These cards tell you about an animal that lives in the ocean, which you may or may not see during gameplay. You need five cards to progress onto the next level. As the level increases so too does the complexity of your annotations as well as the number of annotations required per card. Each level also includes a tutorial showing you what to look for, so you learn as you go.

Clear water tutorial
Tutorial image showing an example of clear water with good visibility. (Click to enlarge.)

What You'll Contribute To

The deep sea is a complex system; many factors can influence species’ diversity, distribution and behavior. With a continuous presence on the seafloor, cabled observatories like the NEPTUNE Canada network offer scientists unique opportunities to answer fundamental questions such as:

  • What environmental factors influence the distribution of species in the deep?
  • What is the biodiversity associated with deep-sea environments?
  • How do species interact with each other and with their environment?

Animal Abundance & Diversity in Barkley Canyon

The Barkley Canyon videos currently in Digital Fishers are part of a larger research project looking at the influence of food supply (detritus that falls from the surface to the deep) on species abundance and diversity at the ocean floor. We know this supply of organic matter changes in quality and quantity with seasons, but how those variations affect the organisms living on the seafloor?

The Barkley Canyon area is also affected by large seasonal changes in oxygen concentration. How these changes influence animal communities is still not understood. By watching and annotating the videos with Digital Fishers, you can help tell researchers about the types of animals inhabiting a study area at different times.

Barkley Canyon sea life
Examples of sea creatures that live in Barkley Canyon. (Click to enlarge.)

Marine Life on a Mid-Ocean Ridge

Corals and other creatures are found distributed in patches along the ridge, but what can their locations and growth patterns tell us about this unique environment? A team of scientists across Canada are trying to answer this question by comparing the level of biodiversity in a location to the complexity of the rock structures on the seafloor. Do complex habitats provide homes for more species?

By using Digital Fishers to annotate videos from the mid-ocean ridge, you can help researchers better catalogue the variety and abundance of sea life found on these rock structures.

Coral on Juan de Fuca Ridge
Coral on a rock ledge on the Endeavour segment of the Juan de Fuca mid-ocean ridge. (Click to enlarge.)

Donate 15 Seconds (many times!) to a Good Cause

Volunteer contributions are the key ingredient that will make Digital Fishers useful to scientists. We hope you’ll give it a try—your contributions will help scientists better understand the oceans—and you’ll gain some knowledge in a fun way too.

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