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

They dive down to depths of over 2000 metres and remain under water for periods of over an hour. When a seal with a transmitter dives, it collects data even under the ice and then appears on the surface again to breathe after some time. While it breathes fresh air, the recorded data package is sent to a satellite that passes on the signals received. With a little luck the transmitter will continuously transfer data for a year. When the next moulting takes place, the wonder of microelectronics developed by the Scottish Sea Mammal Research Unit will then fall off. Immediately after evaluation the measured data from this German-Argentinian-South African joint project will be made available to other world data centres via the Publishing Network for Geoscientific & Environmental Data (PANGAEA) at the Alfred Wegener Institute and used by various international cooperative scientific ventures.

During the extended travels through the Southern Ocean the transmitters not only send the geographic position and diving depth of the respective seal, but at the same time data on the temperature and salt concentration of the body of water through which the animal is swimming and thus important physical parameters from which, for example, conclusions can be drawn on the currents in the ocean. "Elephant seals mainly feed on fish and squid," Pltz's colleague Horst Bornemann explains why the researchers can draw conclusions regarding the spatial and temporal distribution of particularly productive zones in the Southern Ocean based on seal migrations. "They lead a nomadic life in the ice desert of the Antarctic Ocean and are always looking for regions with ample prey. Based on seasonal changes in the migration behaviour of seals, we thus obtain indications of when, where and at what depth exceptionally high numbers of fish and squid occur and with what oceanographic conditions a good supply of food correlates."

Even though the transmitters can hold out for a year,
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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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