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High-tech tags on marine animals yield valuable data for biologists and oceanographers

Researchers are enlisting seals, sea lions, tunas, and sharks to serve as ocean sensors, outfitting these top predators with electronic tags that gather detailed reports on oceanographic conditions and, in many cases, transmit the data via satellite. The data are proving useful to both biologists and oceanographers, yielding new information about the migrations and behavior of the animals and about the environments in which they live.

"We're using these animals as ocean sensors to tell us about oceanographic conditions, and we're also learning how they use the ocean--where they go and what they do," said Daniel Costa, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Costa, along with Barbara Block of Stanford University, is a principal investigator on a Census of Marine Life project called Tagging Of Pacific Pelagics (TOPP), which is deploying electronic tags on 23 species of apex predators in the North Pacific Ocean. He is also collaborating with researchers at the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland on a project in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica called Southern Elephant Seals as Oceanographic Samplers (SEaOS).

Costa and SMRU's Michael Fedak organized several sessions focusing on this area of research at the 2006 Ocean Sciences Meeting, February 20-24, in Honolulu. Costa and other researchers will present the results of tagging studies involving California sea lions, northern elephant seals, tuna, salmon sharks, and albatross in the North Pacific, as well as southern elephant seals, Antarctic fur seals, and crabeater seals in the Southern Ocean.

California sea lions are proving to be an excellent platform for monitoring oceanographic conditions along the California coast, Costa said. State-of-the-art tags developed at SMRU can now capture an animal's location, swim speed, and the depth and duration of dives, as well as the temperature and salin
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Source:University of California - Santa Cruz


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