My newest Facebook friend is Pringles, a female whale shark who hangs out around Tofo, Monzambique. Her latest photo was posted 17 days ago, and she can be identified by the constellations of pale spots that cover her skin.
The Wild Me Facebook app integrates animals, conservation scientists and the public. Wild Me is a non-profit that uses data from biologists to create individual profiles for animals, allowing a wider audience to learn about ongoing research. The project uses an open-source platform called WildBook, software that allows researchers to collaborate in wildlife studies.
Facebook "Friending" a shark or manta ray may help us better appreciate these animals and fight to protect their habitats, perhaps in the same way that polar bears have become a symbol for fighting global warming. However, Wild Me goes beyond using animals as symbols; it's about allowing people see animals as individuals and connecting them to the scientists working to understand them.
Biologist Andrea Marshall is one of the conservationists working with the developers of Wild Me, contributing photos and data from her studies of mantas. She tells The Washington Post the project will build a more meaningful way for people to stay connected to conservation efforts:
“People want to be engaged in conservation, but they get disillusioned when they just sign a petition or donate money and never hear anything on the topic again,” Marshall says. “Getting updates on what an animal is doing or what researchers have learned from it will make participants feel involved and connected,” she says.
Although Wild Me has launched its Facebook app, there are many more features the creators have planned. To fund further development, they've started an Indegogo campaign, with the aim of raising $20,000. One of their goals is to be able to incorporate data on more species, including cheetahs, wild dogs and blue whales.
This isn't the only innovative way social media tools are being put to use to help both scientists and citizens better understand nature and the environment. Yesterday, Megan Treacy wrote about tracking sharks with Twitter and the app Shark Net allows you to follow great whites with your phone.