Wanted: Volunteers who want to count seals in Antarctica – from home

This will be the first comprehensive count of Weddell seals in history.
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If you're good at Where's Waldo, the University of Minnesota could use your help.

Scientists need help counting all the Weddell seals in Antarctica, and you'll be able to help from the warmth of Minnesota. There are "thousands" of satellite images of Antarctica that researchers need to look through to count how many Weddell seals there are, a news release says.

Counting the seals will help scientists better understand the effects of climate change and commercial fishing around Antarctica.

This marks the "first-ever, comprehensive count" of Weddell seals, the release says. And it comes after 5,000 volunteers participated in a pilot program counting seals in satellite images of sea ice in the Ross Sea last summer.

“Right now, everything we know about Weddell seals is limited to an area representing about 1 percent of the coastline around Antarctica,” Michelle LaRue, a research ecologist in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Earth Sciences and lead researcher on the project, said in a statement. “Now we need help from the public to search the remaining 99 percent so we can better understand where seals live and why.”

Why counting from the couch?

The short answer: Antarctica isn't that great for traveling.

The bad weather (the high there was 61 degrees below zero on Friday) and its remote location (it's 9,629 miles from Minneapolis) has prevented researchers from doing a comprehensive count of the seals.

But now thanks to high-resolution satellite images of Antarctica, a count is possible. But if the small team of seal scientists were to count all the photos on their own, it would take "years," LaRue said.

That's where you come in. All you have to do is visit this website to get started. It explains some key steps in seal counting, like looking for cracks in the ice – where there's a crack, there's a pretty good chance there will be a seal.

This is the animal you'll be looking for

Weddell seals are one of the most iconic species to live on Antarctica, with the U of M describing them as "undeniably charismatic."

They're the southern-most mammal in the world, and they spend a lot of time below the ice, which helps them avoid their predators like orcas and leopard seals, National Geographic says.

Weddells can live up to 30 years in the wild, and can grow to be 10 feet long and weigh 1,200 pounds.

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