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Fluke & Flipper: Augmenting the Hector's Dolphin Sightings App

The Hector’s Dolphin Sightings App was launched last year with: the ability to take photos for species identification; record other marine mammal species; and allow access to real-time data. 

 The app is growing to be a very successful platform for citizen science. Our dream is for it to become the primary public tool for marine mammal data collection in Aotearoa, New Zealand; and a world-leading example or inter-organisational collaboration.

 Because of its success and exponential potential for gathering information on other species, we’ve are rethinking the name of the app. We’re hoping to develop a version of the app in Te Reo too.

 The primary reason for developing the Hector’s Dolphin Sighting App was to address the urgent need for more information on the important subpopulations of Hector’s dolphins at the top of the South. We know the existing Māui dolphin app well, but in order to promote sightings of Hector's dolphins, a different name was needed. The Hector’s app was set up to work alongside the Māui one in a complementary way, both working towards the same conservation outcomes. Here’s a TV ONE news item about this project when it was launched: https://youtu.be/BIkSOqYmiU8

 The Hector’s Dolphin Sightings App was developed in partnership with Whale and Dolphin Conservation, DOC and myself as project leader. Check out the app and see what you think. It’s available on:

 Google Play and the Apple Store

Here’s the link to the web app; a great way to see all the data! https://hectors.thundermaps.com

What conservation problem are you trying to solve?

Hector’s and Māui dolphins are endemic to Aotearoa and endangered due to bycatch in net fishing. Māui are critical with an estimated 63 dolphins left. At least two Hector’s are living in Māui territory. A genetic and ecological connection begins at the top of the South, extends from Cook Strait/ Taranaki Bight into Māui habitat and has the potential to prevent extinction. Most of this habitat is unprotected– an area of historical abundance. 

The government will not implement more protection due to lack to data. So, we designed an app to harness sightings data of Hector’s dolphins from this priority area. We designed it to record data of other marine mammal species too.

NZ Orca, Bottlenose and Common dolphins are also becoming increasingly endangered. Whales are slowly recovering from whaling. The more information we have on these magnificent mammals, the best we can look after them. Nearly everyone has a smartphone. Citizen science increases our pool of knowledge significantly. 

How are you going to solve this conservation problem?

 

Nearly everyone has a smartphone. Citizen science increases our pool of knowledge significantly. So, we designed an app to harness sightings data of Hector’s dolphins from this priority area, with the ability to record other species.

The app has more than doubled official sighting records. New information gained from the app has been put into policy proposals for more protection.

 It's still a priority to collect data on Hector’s but an app name change would promote more sightings of other species, and this a real strength -increasing the scale of effectiveness of conservation in Aotearoa.

 Promotion of the app has focussed on priority communities, and this is where we also get most multi-species reports. By promoting the rebranded app in other priority areas, we expect more sightings reports of other species to flow in.

Working collaboratively is something we strongly believe in and look forward to more of this, as data connects us all. Together we can succeed.

What makes your idea new and unique?

We created an app that specialises in collecting NZ marine mammal data that has:

  • High value community of repeat users, who register once
  • Sighting report process made as quick and effortless as possible
  • Scientific best practice, fits with DOC systems
  • Photo-ID potential, photos are strongly encouraged as they provide instant species verification and cut costs on the validation process. We want to work with universities to connect Photo-ID data.
  • 2-hour delay for sightings going public to protect wildlife
  • Offline reporting
  • Historical sightings
  • Users can access the data, edit own reports, comment, tell their stories etc.
  • Ability for a Te Reo version
  • Data exports for sharing with other sites

 

Who will use your idea, and how will they benefit?

The app has a growing pool of engaged people including – DOC staff, iwi, tour operators, commercial and recreational fisherman, surfers, tourists, other boat users, beach goers, scientists, community groups, NGOs - the general public at large.


We want to promote the app in a successful way, so that it becomes the national go-to tool for reporting marine mammal sightings.


It’s a great way to not only collect scientific data, but it also gets people, communities and groups engaged with whale and dolphin species more, interested in learning more about the issues that affect these tāonga, growing awareness and fostering kaitiakitanga – guardianship.


Information - we are all part of it. It connects us all. It influences policy, management, bringing us closer to thriving marine mammals in our oceans and off our beaches. We continue to grow collaborations with other NGOs, iwi, scientists and governmental departments. Data is neutral and needed, and the app is quite unifying in this respect.

What tasks or activities do you need investment for? How would you spend a $25,000 grant?

 This grant would enable us to build strategically on the existing project and:

  • Rebrand the app, in order to encourage sightings of all marine mammals around Aotearoa. We would still keep the icon image of the Hector’s dolphin, fitting as it’s endemic, and still a priority focus for the app. -$TBC
  • Develop a website that has more information on species identification, the conservation issues, and most excitingly be able to display the data in GIS. - up to $10,000
  • Have a version of the app available in Te Reo. $2,000
  • Produce communications for promotional and advertising material. $2,000
  • Take promotion of the app to more communities by way of talks, presentations, and leaflet drops. $5,000
  • Explore validation system to increase and safeguard data quality.
  • Co-ordination costs. TBC

Are you a New Zealand citizen or resident?

YES

I have read and agree to the Crowdicity Terms of Use, the Conservation Innovation Awards 2017 Supplemental Terms and Conditions, and the Crowdicity Privacy Policy

YES

List five other ideas posted in the challenge that excite you. Why?

Kiwi Trailblazers - The idea for species identification sounds like a lot of fun. It's important to encourage children and families to get more connected with nature, and this app will be great for this! With a focus on rocky shores, it would be good to link up and harness sightings of marine mammals from people while they are on the beach.


Seawater electrolysis - This is a fascinating idea. Would love to see some trials done and see the results. If we can easily improve our marine ecosystems in this way, let's do it!!! Exciting!


Te Rarawa Noho Taiao - We really want to engage with iwi more and youth. It would be great to have more iwi involvement with the app – another reason we want a Te Reo version. Keen to explore possible collaboration with this awesome and important idea.


Tui high on Kowhai - Agile Cloud could be a useful tool for connecting with other groups and collating multiple data collection. It appears mostly land-focussed although they do harbour monitoring too. It’s worth exploring how we could collaborate with data storing.


The KOTAHI project - We also are for the Ecosystem Based Approach. Wastewater, agricultural run-offs do affect our marine ecosystems. Hector’s dolphins often feed around rivermouths. We need to connect with freshwater projects and land-based apps. What happens on the land affects the marine environment. It would be good to have more conservation connectivity here in general.


 

How could you improve your idea?

We need to connect with existing apps to maximise marine mammal collection data. We could be harnessing many more citizen scientists. What is the best way to connect with these other apps i.e. Auckland, Flora Finder, Naturewatch, Coastguard? Some of these apps have excellent tools that assist in correct species identification which would really benefit us. We need to link up.

If data from all the apps is unified, we can work synergistically together. It’s imperative to have a national systemic, integrated way of storing data. It seems there are several different groups attempting this – Naturewatch. Agile Cloud etc. DOC is also working towards having all marine mammal data in one place- with GIS. We’re working with them to achieve this. A national, public database is needed.

Verification of multiple species takes time and expense. How can we validate data in a low-cost way that enhances value and usability? We can support scientists more by allowing access to real-time data provided by the app. These scientists could validate sightings for their species of interest and add this value. There already is a precedence to apply this to work with Leopard Seals, Bottlenose, Orca, False Killer Whales and has real application for whale strandings.

The crowdsourcing process has really helped us define our project even more. Our app focusses on marine mammals - the first in NZ to do so exclusively.  We’re excited to be specialised in this area and to be a free app.

Tagged users
edited on Oct 15, 2017 by Gemma McGrath

Andrew Lee Oct 12, 2017

Great idea, with a lot of further potential.

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Gemma McGrath Oct 12, 2017

Thanks Andrew!

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Gemma McGrath Oct 14, 2017

We're really looking forward to being able to explore the data even more with GIS. Hector's dolphins remain a priority species, but we hope other scientists and NGOs, community groups can harness this citizen science tool to help further other marine mammal conservation needs.

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Gemma McGrath Oct 13, 2017

So, awesome community, anyone have any ideas on a name for the app? Any improvements on Fluke & Flipper? Name needs to be cute, short and as endearing as Pelorus Jack and Opo.

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Michael Fielding Oct 14, 2017

Hi Gemma, great project.

Why does the name need to be cute and endearing? I reckon it needs to be recognisable and easily found!

'Fluke' on its own would have the double meaning that you spotted it by a fluke!

But what about Marine Watch or Marine Wildlife Reporter? These would make it easy to find on the App Store etc. Or consider a name which would show up if people were searching for a way to _identify_ animals - which means they may find you, rather than you having to find them and get them to download the app.

It would be lovely to see it integrated into Auckland Museum's Marine Wildlife app. Not only would you get an instant boost in users, you'd have bigger reach. https://itunes.apple.com/nz/app/new-zealand-m...d661468952?mt=8

Another option would be the Coastguard app: https://www.coastguard.nz/boating-safely/marine-weather. Again, your audience would increase.

Hope these thoughts are interesting.

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Gemma McGrath Oct 14, 2017

Kia ora Michael,

Thanks so much for your feedback and suggestions, they are indeed interesting and most appreciated.

You are right, the app name needs to be recognisable and easily found. We can have tags along with the app description that enable people to find it easily. Already the Hector's app has tags including 'marine mammal' and others to help people find us.

It's my feeling that calling the app something like 'Marine mammal watch' is obvious and - a bit boring. I want this app - the national go-to tool for marine mammal sightings throughout NZ to be catchy - on the same level as Pelorus Jack and Opo, Truly Kiwi, more like a nickname - in order to become a household name. I want to touch on that part of our character as a nation - as I think it will be more attractive and iconic for users to download and contribute too, especially in the long term. This would also help differentiate ourselves from international apps.

We are specialising our target group with the app, in order to not be too generic, and harness users from the passionate pool of people who are keen whale and dolphin spotters. Many are keener still on Pinnipeds and other marine wildlife, but cetaceans are our core target group. If we go too general, we can risk losing interest and focus, thus reducing optimal data collection. We do want to work alongside other specialist groups, e.g. seabirds, Project Hotspot, and many more in order to connect with the wider field of citizen scientists. This is an important consideration in refining and exploring how we can best capture data, that's valuable to science, and all streamlined, somehow, to an ultimate national data repository.

We are all for collaboration, it makes sense. We'd love to connect with Coastguard and the Auckland Museum (awesome apps - thanks for introducing them to us). One of the benefits of this sightings app is that's free (Coastguard isn't). I think this is really important, seeing as people are freely giving information to the app. One of our keystones is that we have to make it as easy, quick and effortless as possible for people to report sightings. Otherwise we won't get the info. Being a free app is paramount to data collection.
Your comments are right on track - We know we need to connect more with other organisations more in order to boost users, and have a bigger reach. We've been on such a shoestring of a budget, so far we've only been able to target promotion of the app to one priority area - the top of the South. It's amazing how usage of the app has spread all around Aotearoa with such little promo. And to a much wider array of species.
In order for this awesome data collection tool to be a world leading example for reporting sightings of marine mammals, we need to grow past the current app name.

Thanks so much for your feedback, it really helped refine my idea!

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Gemma McGrath Oct 13, 2017

We're really keen on being able to view the app data on GIS. We support DOC in the development of a GIS tool that can house all available marine mammal data – from the apps, scientific studies, DOC database, Naturewatch etc. so all the data is one place and accessible. It would be a national tāonga of a research tool, a library of spatial marine mammal information, that the app can contribute directly to. What do you think beautiful people?

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Hannah Hendriks Oct 13, 2017

Thanks Gemma. The data that can be collected on this app is invaluable to add to DOC's national marine mammal records, and a really innovative way to make data reporting really simple for members of the public. We've already seen lots of enthusiasm for the app and we can't wait to see it grow further.

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Gemma McGrath Oct 13, 2017

Thanks Hannah! Looking forward to more collaboration with you in growing the app.

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Blair Outhwaite Oct 13, 2017

I am doing my MSc on bottlenose dolphins and one of chapters incorporates citizen science, I would love to know what you plan to do with the data collected through the app.

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Gemma McGrath Oct 13, 2017

Hi Blair! Lovely to hear from you. We are hoping the data can be used by scientists such as yourself to help build knowledge on whales and dolphins around Aotearoa. We've already started working with University of Otago on aligning the photo-ID catalogue on Hector's around Dunedin. So there's lots of opportunities to collaborate and help further research goals with help from the app, making the most of citizen science data collection. Data verification is important, so interested scientists can have access to people's details in order to validate reports. We can work with scientists in the field and give them access to (undelayed) real-time data, with DOC's approval too.

Users tagged:

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Alitia St Pierre Oct 13, 2017

I love this app! It's amazing to see people's reports making a difference to the health of Hector's Dolphins!

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Gemma McGrath Oct 13, 2017

Thanks Alitia! It's amazing how successful it has been over such a short amount of time, with a growing community of repeat users. Thanks for your support!

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Gemma McGrath Oct 14, 2017

Hi Alitia,

The app really is making a difference, especially for the target areas at the top of the South, where we have focused promotion. We've more than doubled the existing DOC sightings in less than a year for this area!

What's equally amazing is the amount of sightings, from many repeat users, of Hector's all around the South Island - Dunedin, West Coast, Moeraki, Timaru, Lyttelton, Kaikoura, Catlins, Te Wae Wae Bay and more.

More and more people are engaging with the app; the fact that there are so many repeat users is testamount to it's ease of use. I think a key part of that is people being able to be part of the data, and see, interact with the reports.

We got our first report of a Southern Right whale off Otago Peninsula last week! We're getting more reports of Orca too. These sightings are mainly from people who signed up with the app for Hector's dolphins. Sightings of other species would certainly grow if we adapt the name to incorporate other cetacean species. It's all in the name! There are so many other cetacean sightings we could be harnessing that are currently falling though the cracks, as not everyone is specifically engaged with Hector's. Check out the 'Cetacean Sightings NZ' Facebook page and you'll get my drift.

Thanks again for your lovely feedback,

Gem

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Jennifer Mcguire Oct 13, 2017

This is great. Easy to use, intuitive and real time info.

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Gemma McGrath Oct 13, 2017

Thanks Jennifer :)

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Christine Rose Oct 13, 2017

This app is an excellent tool for mapping important dolphin sightings and sharing them with interested communities including conservationists, scientists and the public. It celebrates Maui and Hector's dolphins, helps with public education and awareness, and contributes to scientific knowledge.

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Gemma McGrath Oct 13, 2017

Thanks Christine. So glad you find it this project so relevant and helpful to your mahi! Thanks so much for your support.

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mike bossley Oct 13, 2017

This is an excellent idea and gives hope of saving these special dolphins!

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Gemma McGrath Oct 14, 2017

Thanks Mike!
Rest assured Hector's will continue to be a main priority of the app.
To have more than doubled the existing DOC sightings for Hector's at the top of the South, a priority area, with data from the app is a wonderful success. To have been able to put this new information towards policy development and change is most influential. The more data to come, the merrier, especially as the Hector's Dolphin Threat Management Plan process heats up in 2018. It all helps implement more protection and create positive change for these critically endangered dolphin tāonga.
We hope the framework and specialised technology of the app can help other scientists and community groups in NZ with other priority species with high conservation needs, such as Orca, Bottlenose, Leopard Seals, False Killer Whales etc...
Bring it on!

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declana Oct 13, 2017

Excellent app, much needed

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Gemma McGrath Oct 14, 2017

Hi Declana,
Thanks so much for your lovely comment. We're always keen to know how app users like yourself are enjoying the app.
Any feedback, suggestions for improvements are always welcomed. We are all about continually improving the app.
Thanks so much for your support!

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Gemma McGrath Oct 14, 2017

Kia ora Innovation Ambassadors. What an amazing community these Awards have created,
If you have any comments, suggestions, questions, feedback on our idea - Fluke & Flipper the sightings app, we'd really love to hear them in order to best refine our idea!

I sincerely apologise for the short notice in requesting your input (on a Sunday at that, my excuse is school holidays!)

Your thoughts and expertise are greatly appreciated.

Thanks so much for taking a look at this initiative that truly enhances the scope for cetacean conservation outcomes in Aotearoa.

Arohanui,

Gem x

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Dana Sheehan Oct 14, 2017

I like be this app and the idea behind it. Would be so useful to lots of groups. Awesome!!!

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Gemma McGrath Oct 15, 2017

That's the idea Dana, to connect with as many groups as poss to grow the data pool. Thanks so much for your support and for commenting on our idea!

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Michael Lawry Oct 14, 2017

Great practical tool that already works well off the NZ coast with Hector's/Pahu. Even better when its enhanced and can be used for other cetaceans, many of which need more sighting data. Gets the community involved and helps them connect to their special marine environment.

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Gemma McGrath Oct 15, 2017

Thanks Michael. I'm so glad you really get the wider vision and potential of the app. Thanks for your support and awesome comment - means a lot.

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Michele Frank Oct 15, 2017

The idea has been progressed to the next milestone

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