Whale songs

9th May 2008 at 01:00
Researchers from St Andrews University are offering a whale of a trip to young conservationists
Researchers from St Andrews University are offering a whale of a trip to young conservationists.

The winner of an online competition, which is based on a scientific aerial survey of whales, will be invited to sail with scientists on a week-long trip round Madeira in September on "Song of the Whale", a state-of-the-art education and research vessel. During that time, they will study the acoustic behaviour of beaked whales (pictured) in the Atlantic Ocean.

The competition is open to UK residents aged 16 to 21, who must estimate the actual number of whales present, based on how many they spot during the course of the online game. If the competition winner is under 18, he or she must be accompanied by a parent or guardian on the trip. The competition closes on June 30 and the winner will be announced on July 7.

The idea of introducing young people to this scientific methodology is part of a drive to find the next generation of statisticians. Since population estimation techniques are included in Higher and A-level biology exams, the game has been designed as a useful resource for senior pupils.

David Borchers, a St Andrews researcher, said: "Uncertainty is statisticians' bread and butter and uncertainty is unavoidable when estimating wildlife population sizes, which is why the next generation of conservationists will need to be statistically literate.

"To conserve animal populations under threat, we need to know how many remain and whether their numbers are increasing or decreasing. But just finding out how many there are is often surprisingly difficult - whales cannot be counted like humans. Instead, we have to estimate numbers based on sightings of relatively few animals."

www.whalequest.org.uk.

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