Who? What? WHER!

14 11 2013

I field a great many questions about reporting dead wildlife of all stripes here at SEANET. While we are dedicated to the formal, regimented collection of beached bird data on designated beaches and planned surveys, we are, nonetheless, always keenly interested in what people find on unmonitored beaches, or off in the woods, or in their suburban backyards and grocery store parking lots. Whenever I get such a query, I steer the inquirer to the Wildlife Health Event Reporter, an aggregator of wildlife illness or mortality from any cause, in any species, and of any magnitude anywhere on the globe.

When members of the public contact me to report a dead animal that no one in their local or state government seems interested in collecting, it’s easy for me to explain the merits of WHER. People like knowing that their report, however seemingly minor, might contribute to our overall understanding of wildlife health, or even help us detect the next outbreak or the newest emerging disease.

Sometimes, however, I am contacted by people who have found dead animals, and the local fish and game folks, or the environmental police, or even the federal authorities have responded. In those cases, it can be hard for me to persuade these finders to report their sightings to WHER. After all, they say, if the authorities responded and are testing the animals, surely there must be some central reporting system that will collect all that data in one place?

In fact, there is not. Or there wasn’t until WHER came along. Certainly the authorities responding to a wildlife mortality event will collect extensive data on the scope, timing and extent of the event. They may accumulate test results or other information. But the fate of that data and those results is highly variable. Some agencies may make them publicly available, others keep a spreadsheet in their internal databases, inaccessible to the public, still others keep paper reports in a file cabinet.

Flyer While WHER cannot necessarily share every detail of every event and every test, it can serve to collect all the vital information on the timing and geographic scope of the event. As more and more people use the program, we will see a more and more refined picture of what’s happening across the country and across the globe.

I am a great believer in the power of WHER, and I am, as its creators say, one its enthusiastic cheerleaders. But I am not its developer or its coordinator, so in preparing for this post, I asked Megan Hines and Cris Marsh, who actually do run the thing, to help me explain just why WHER is so important. One resource they steered me toward are the several documents on their About page. There, you can find quick summaries as well as more in depth explanations of what WHER is and why it matters. Megan also provided me with what I find to be an exceedingly helpful explanation of Why WHER is necessary, including the many reasons why data on wildlife mortality may be lost, whether because it was never reported in the first place, or never shared, or never deemed important.

The major message WHER and I would both send you is that every report of a sick or dead wild animal is valuable. Even if it’s a finch by your bird feeder with a swollen eye, or a dead chipmunk in your shed, please report it. When enough people start to do that, the patterns emerge. And the beauty of WHER is that you can follow those patterns and view all the data and all the maps at wher.org. This program is democratic in the data it accepts, and in the data that it shares, so take advantage of it, public!

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