As part of her M.S. research, GEMM Lab graduate student Courtney Hann is working collaboratively with the Alaska Whale Foundation and Smallmelo Geographic Information Services to produce a citizen science version of Whale mAPP. Whale mAPP is a collection of GIS-based web and mobile tools to allow citizen scientists to collect observations of marine mammals. Traditional methods of gathering and managing data to map marine mammal distributions require extensive time and resources. Whale mAPP allows anyone to submit and visualize observations that can be used by scientists for research. It is an Android mobile application that utilizes GPS-enabled smartphones to record sightings, track and display boat paths, and collect photographs that are transmitted to a geodatabase.

Courtney’s thesis research evaluates both citizen scientists using Whale mAPP as a low-cost tool for collecting marine mammal sightings data and the usability of the data for improving our knowledge of distribution patterns. Data collection is currently underway in Southeast Alaska, with numerous volunteers using Whale mAPP and contributing to the citizen science database.

Under the supervision of Dr. Leigh Torres, Courtney aims to determine the effectiveness of using citizen science data in research efforts by generating and comparing marine mammal (humpback whale, killer whale, Dall’s porpoise) distribution maps based on (1) citizen science data collected via Whale mAPP and (2) standardized survey data. The project will assess the usability of these data to understand marine mammal distribution patterns, determine the educational benefits of Whale mAPP, and provide critical feedback to revise the mobile application.