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Seal bulls in the service of science
Date:6/2/2010

Bremerhaven, 2nd June, 2010. "Gustavo" is an imposing bull always in search of the best feeding grounds. The elephant seal weighing 3 tons and measuring 4 metres in length belongs to a group of 14 animals that serve researchers of the Alfred Wegener Institute as scientific assistants since recently. At the beginning of the Antarctic winter from mid-March to the end of April the mighty elephant seal bulls were tagged with state-of-the-art satellite transmitters at the Dallmann Laboratory on King George Island. In the coming months marine biologists Dr. Joachim Pltz and Dr. Horst Bornemann can now follow from their desk in Bremerhaven where the animals migrate, where they find prey at what depth and under what oceanographic conditions the food supply is exceptionally good in the Southern Ocean.

"We have just returned from the Antarctic Peninsula and still have fresh impressions of the incredible experience when you have numerous elephant seal bulls with their loud deep roar in front of you and imagine attaching a satellite transmitter the size of your palm to some of these huge creatures," Joachim Pltz describes a not entirely everyday situation even for the experienced seal researcher. Every year from March to April the males of the only reproduction colony of the Southern elephant seal in the Antarctic come to the South Shetland Islands, a group that also includes King George Island, for moulting. The scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association took advantage of this narrow time window to furnish some of the animals with transmitters that operate using the satellite-aided ARGOS location system. Once moulting is over after three weeks, the bulls go back to their migratory life and do not return to land until six months later to mate with the females in the Antarctic spring.

During the annual migrations to their oceanic feeding grounds elephant seals cover thousands of kilometres.
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Contact: Dr. Joachim Ploetz
Joachim.Ploetz@awi.de
49-471-483-11309
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres
Source:Eurekalert  

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