This post is part of Citizen Science September at the Zooniverse.
I am Laela Sayigh, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. I have been working with a team from the University St Andrews in Scotland trying to categorize the different calls of pilot whales recorded from the Tongue of the Ocean in the Bahamas. Some of the calls in Whale FM come from the same recordings I use in my research, made on acoustic recording tags attached to pilot whales. This year, our research on the characterization of the pilot whale vocal repertoire used your classifications from Whale FM. In fact, they were really useful!
In our study, which involved over 4,000 pilot whale calls, several observers grouped the calls based on visual assessments of similarity. This is similar to the task Whale FM volunteers perform on the site. We found evidence for repeated call types, which had not been previously reported for pilot whales. However, to make the case, we really needed to see how generalizable our classifications were. We initially tried to use data from additional observers, but the vast and variable nature of the data made this very difficult. We were working on this right at the time that Whale FM launched, and we decided to see if preliminary results from the site might provide the corroboration of our classifications that we needed.
At the time, the website had been available to the public for about one month, and there were 255 instances of users being presented with a categorized call from our study as the “main call” to be matched. Users matched calls according to our categorization scheme in 189, or 74% of these instances. Since we do not have information about how many misclassifications may have resulted from users not being presented with a call from the same category as a possible match, the percentage of classifications that agreed with ours could have been even higher than 74%. So, although these results are preliminary, with any given “main call” only occurring once or twice in the data set of 255 matches, we feel that the level of agreement found is very positive. Thus the Whale FM data provided an independent measure of reliability to our results.
Sayigh L, Quick N, Hastie G, Tyack P. 2012. Repeated call types in short-finned pilot whales, Globicephala macrorhynchus. Marine Mammal Science, DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2012.00577.x