Saving the dolphins - with an app

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Saving the dolphins - with an app

At our first quarterly general meeting this year we outlined an objective to start a project in the environmental sector. We wanted to demonstrate that we could translate the skills that we use every day to solve business problems to add value in tackling environmental and sustainability ones.

Starting a conservation project

We’ve partnered with the marine conservation charity MarineLife. They undertake fascinating and important monitoring and research of the marine wildlife (cetaceans and seabirds) around the UK and European coastlines.

The waters of Lyme Bay and Southwest England have been important to MarineLife’s research for many years, where it’s possible to encounter four different species of dolphin (common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, white-beaked dolphin and Risso’s dolphin). This data has provided many insights, such as the discovery of a residential population of white-beaked dolphins in Lyme Bay. We kicked off our collaboration with MarineLife’s Director of Research, Dr Tom Brereton, to dive more deeply into MarineLife’s activities and challenges, and explore where our collaboration can add value to conservation efforts. The outcome was a delineation of product features and a vision.

Workshop Our first workshop with MarineLife to decide on what to include in the project

The concept that we devised pulls together multiple threads of MarineLife activities. Photo-identification of dolphins is a core part of MarineLife’s work: dolphins can be individually identified by distinct marks, scars and patterns on their body and nicks and notches on their dorsal fin. Recording what dolphin has been seen when and where enables researchers to start answering important questions that help us understand these amazing creatures and more readily target conservation efforts. We can catalogue individual dolphins to build up a biography but also see how they interact with the wider population. There are however significant challenges with photo-identification and cataloguing. Obtaining data and photos from dedicated surveys is costly and weather dependent. The process of entering data and identifying individuals is also time-consuming and not easily maintainable.

Fin Identification Dolphins can be identified by nicks and notches on their dorsal fin. Photo: MarineLife

Education and awareness raising is also a big part of what MarineLife does, offering a range of courses and educational materials. Dolphin photos submitted by the public are an important and complementary source of data to dedicated surveys. People out on the water (fishing, sailing, diving, etc) frequently encounter dolphins and thanks to the ubiquity of cameras are able to capture sightings.

Creating a tool for researchers - and the public

Our solution creates a back office application for researchers which streamlines data entry and the process of photo-identification of dolphin sightings with the catalogue of a dolphin population. This saves time and ensures that data is cleaned and validated, which frees researchers up to do research! In addition, we have developed a public citizen science platform that allows people to submit their own sightings and get feedback about the dolphins seen in their encounter. This serves to increase public awareness and engagement but also make available more data to conservation!

MarineLife researcher MarineLife researcher mid dolphin encounter in Lyme Bay, South West England. Photo: MarineLife.

We’re currently prototyping our application with the white-beaked dolphin population of Lyme Bay, Southwest England — a rare significant population notable for being the most southerly known residential population for this species and important indicator to understand the impacts in any changes in sea level temperatures. This population currently has no designated protections and it is hoped that this work will contribute both to the understanding and the conservation of these wonderful animals. We’ve been working away at the UX, design and development and we’re excited with the progress so far — watch this space for the launch of DD’s first step towards a more sustainable world!