Bat hotline asks 'citizen scientists' in Atlantic region for help monitoring endangered bats

Researchers are asking people in Atlantic Canada to report any bats they see this summer.

Project used to track bats expands to all 4 Atlantic provinces

Have you seen a bat? Researchers would like you to call the bat hotline if you do. (Submitted by University of P.E.I.)

If you eye a bat this summer, be sure to call the bat hotline. 

The hotline monitors the health of the bat population in the Atlantic region. It has been expanded this year to cover Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, in addition to P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador, the two provinces it has been monitoring since it was set up in 2017.

White nose syndrome has been a devastating disease for bat populations in the Atlantic provinces. A few years ago it was estimated the disease had wiped out 95 per cent of the bat population in this region.

"Three of the bats that we find in Atlantic Canada are listed federally as endangered due to white nose syndrome," said Tessa McBurney, Atlantic bat conservation project technician with the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative Atlantic region, at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown.

"So it's very important to keep track of sightings of bats and where they are. And this will help people with recovery and conservation actions for bats." 

Those three species are the little brown myotis, the northern myotis, and the tri-coloured bat.

Calls to hotline double

"There aren't that many people that necessarily monitor bats, like bat researchers such as myself," she said.

"So it's really important to have people on the ground, like citizen scientists, reporting this information to us and allows us to have quite a comprehensive database of that report," she said.

That information about bat whereabouts is shared with provincial wildlife officials. 

So by recording of echolocation calls of bats, it gives us an idea of where they are.— Tessa McBurney, Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative

Calls to the bat hotline — 1-833-434-BATS (2287) — doubled last year, and McBurney hopes that trend continues this year. Last year there were 422 calls to the hotline, including 385 reports of sightings, and 17 dead bats were submitted for necropsy and testing.

In addition to providing researchers with information about the numbers of bats in this region, it also helps them understand their health and will be used to help monitor the spread of the disease.

"It will allow us to further expand our knowledge of bats in Atlantic Canada," said McBurney. 

"It's kind of like what you think when you think of birds, we have a huge birding community with people reporting sightings and participating in bird counts and bird surveys and that type of thing." 

Starting later this year, McBurney said training will be offered to educate people on how to monitor bats in their own provinces. 

She suggests bat watchers set up a lawn chair at dusk and count the bats as they come out in the evening to feed.

"So that's pretty simple. You just have to be able to count," said McBurney.

Tessa McBurney, Atlantic bat conservation project technician, says the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative will be training people on how to track bats. (CBC)

But, things do get a little more complicated.

"We have special equipment that can pick up the echolocation calls of the bats that we can't hear ourselves. And of course we'll be training people in how to put out this equipment and how to use it properly," she said. 

"So by recording of echolocation calls of bats, it gives us an idea of where they are."

The bats send out sound waves and when they hit an object it produces an echo, which the bats use to navigate.

McBurney said that program should be up and running by the end of the summer. 

The four provincial governments in the region are also collaborating, along with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Callers to the hotline will get information on bats, including details about their biology and ecology, interactions with humans, bats in buildings, and bat conservation.

More from CBC P.E.I. 


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