In early August Hoot Detective, a Science Week 2021 citizen science project, was launched. This project, which is involved with identifying owl calls, is a partnership between the Australian Acoustic Observatory, Queensland University of Technology, the University of New England and ABC Science.
Citizen scientists with a connected device listen to a ten second grab of audio that has been selected as having a ‘sound of interest’ in it. They are asked to listen for any owl calls and then choose the sounds found in the audio from a short list of owls, frogs, insects, koalas and more.
The audio comes from the Australian Acoustic Observatory which has been collecting sound from around Australia for two years. It has more than 400 sensors in 360 sites across the country. As each sensor collects over two terabytes (2000 gigabytes) of data per year, the observatory’s database is already immense.
Scientists will use the recordings to understand what creatures are where throughout the country and how our environment is changing in response to bush fires, floods, invasive species and climate change.
The audio for Hoot Detective involves data from 10 sites from across the country including Reedy Creek in Queensland, Tarcutta Hills in NSW, Arkaba in South Australia and Newhaven in the Northern Territory. The owls the project is interested in are Powerful Owl, Barking Owl, Southern Boobook, Eastern Barn Owl and Masked Owl.
Participants are given training and information on the website https://hootdetective.net.au. Those concerned they may not have identified a call correctly are assured that at least ten people will do each audio file.
The work of the citizen scientists will contribute to the training of algorithms in identifying owls from their calls and will save scientists and researchers years of work in cataloguing the audio in the observatory.
On August 27 the Hoot Detective website listed 15,684 owl calls had been found in 4474 sessions by citizen scientists. The project will continue until February 2022.
Hoot Detective shows the potential for similar citizen scientist work on the observatory’s audio files.