Stellwagen Sanctuary Seabird Stewards (S4) Roles for Volunteers

a person looking through binoculars on a research vessel with other people in the background
Stellwagen Sanctuary Seabird Stewards are active citizen scientists for the sanctuary. Photo: Evelyn Ganson/NOAA

Expert Birders, Data Recorders, Wildlife Photographers, and Data Managers and Analysts Needed

If you are an experienced birder who can identify migratory seabirds to the species level, are comfortable on the open water, can follow scientific protocol, and work well with a team, this program offers exciting opportunities. Even if you are not a bird ID expert, please read on if you:

  • can record data on a vessel in a variety of conditions,
  • are an experienced wildlife photographer or videographer,
  • are experienced in entering, quality checking, managing and/or analyzing data, or would like to learn.

S4 Program Summary

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, in collaboration with Mass Audubon, has created a seabird research and monitoring program involving citizen scientists. Our goals are threefold:

  • to systematically collect baseline data on seabirds within sanctuary boundaries to compare populations over time
  • to educate the public about seabirds and connect residents with their sanctuary
  • to train a group of observers, recorders, and data managers to join our scientists in this groundbreaking project

The resulting data is being used to compare relative abundance of seabirds over time – to help us understand wildlife populations in the sanctuary and their possible impacts on local ecosystems and as a barometer for other changes in the environment.

Volunteer Stewards accepted into the Stellwagen Sanctuary Seabird Stewards Program will have the rare opportunity to join sanctuary and Mass Audubon staff at sea as part of a professional research team. Stewards will be trained to collect seabird and related data on the sanctuary's Research Vessel Auk and on commercial whale watch boats.

  • Auk missions run for 10-12 hours at least five times per year, including a Christmas Bird Count, and require at least six trained volunteers per trip.
  • Two to ten volunteers per week will have the opportunity to collect data on whale watch vessels during the season. Trips run approximately four hours and leave from several ports.

Criteria for Volunteer Selection

A successful candidate will be able to fulfill one of more of the roles listed below.

Observer: Identify seabirds and other birds with high degree of accuracy (protocol training will be provided, but prior birding experience is necessary).

Data Recorder: All observers will also become recorders. Volunteers who are not bird ID experts can help by recording the observers' data. See requirements below.

Requirements for Observers and Recorders

  • Travel comfortably on open water and in a variety of weather conditions.
  • Stand on deck for prolonged periods of time.
  • Follow scientific protocol completely and use basic equipment, such as a GPS unit.
  • Report data/communicate in a timely fashion via phone and email.
  • Complete several training sessions in a classroom and/or in the field.
  • Participate for a block of time—at least three cruises per year. Volunteers who are most experienced and consistent will be considered first for Auk cruises.
  • Have reasonable flexibility for scheduling (changes in cruise schedules occur due to weather).

Photographer/Videographer: May be an S4 observer/recorder or may be invited to join solely to focus on capturing images of sanctuary wildlife and people in action.

Data Managers/Analysts: These roles vary from the beginner-level volunteer, who will be trained to enter and quality check data using Microsoft Access, to more experienced data analysts comfortable with Microsoft Excel, databases and perhaps Geographical Information Systems (GIS, and specifically ArcGIS software), the statistical package R, and other software, as needed.

If the program seems like a match for your skills, interests, and availability, please complete a volunteer application. For questions, contact the sanctuary's volunteer programs coordinator.