Citizen Salmon and Dance Buddies

Timely. Having just participated in a salmon census in northern california, I find I am part of the citizen science movement profiled in the new ESA Frontiers In Ecology and the Environment special issue. That is, I am a Citizen Scientist. Also, since I am near-sighted, I was able to make a 100% accurate identification every time I saw a fish 😉

In all seriousness, the value of citizen science has been on my mind ever since I started thinking about further ecological study. There is a strong element of volunteerism in the fields I have been in the last ten years, education and dance/theater, and I’m very curious about the connections between the two.

  • What I got out of performing in other people’s work (dramatic): sense of community, sense of achievement.
  • What I got out of participating in citizen science: enjoyment of looking at fish, sense of community.

I put sense of community second in the science one because, well, there’s almost nothing I enjoy more than seeing fish. As a matter of fact, I’ve noted that looking at fish makes me far better able to socialize. The hardest part of the census for me was the initial training session, where I was distracted by the attractive co-participants and also anxious that some of them might be better scientists than me (of course they were).

This might seem weird, but a sense of accomplishment wasn’t a strong factor in my experience of the salmon count. It might be because I had no particular investment in the project or its essential monitoring purpose, which makes it sound like I don’t care about salmon populations. Not true!

The fact is, I am more engaged at this point in developing my own understanding of the fundamentals of ecology and designing my own work than contributing to someone else’s. In performance, your friends, the choreographer, and the audience are there to give you instant validation as well, so you might feel like you really nailed a dance phrase rather more than got a great set of data. Of course, I always have to remind myself that this is my subjective experience. Although I never choreographed a dance for more than a few people, my friends from the performance world have been very successful making this kind of community-oriented and supported work, and I can’t say enough about the positive feedback loops that are generated in the performer/supporter/spectator ecology.

I’m very interested in citizen science, particularly when it involves aquatic organisms, like fish, and I think it’s an indispensable tool for this kind of research. What I think is necessary is to have a passionate engagement with the basic science behind the project and opportunities to talk with more knowledgeable participants, including primary investigators to ask questions and provide feedback. It just doesn’t sound fun to me to participate in a project where I don’t meet people and increase my ability to do science. No comment about online communities except to say that they come with their own set of norms, like grandstanding.

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About aquaticbiology

I'm a person from the San Francisco Bay Area. I like reading, the movies, my family, and biology. I think the science blogosphere is really fantastic and this is my blog about aquatic biology and the life sciences - along with digressions into science-art and commentary. Enjoy!
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