International science team tracks ocean predators around the globe

o over seasons and even years, and are critical to understanding the dynamics of the Atlantic tuna populations. In recent years Block has worked closely with the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) to help integrate new information from the electronic tags into its bluefin tuna management strategies.

TOPP researchers

Beginning in late 1999, an even more ambitious program, called Tagging of Pacific Pelagics (TOPP), was undertaken by Block and colleagues Dan Costa of the University of California-Santa Cruz and Steven Bograd of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Over the next seven years, in collaboration with dozens of other researchers, they plan to tag and track 5,000 animals, representing more than 20 different species, across the North Pacific.

TOPP, one of seven pilot field programs with the international Census of Marine Life, will make use of a variety of electronic tags to follow the movements of fishes, sharks, sea birds, pinnipeds, cetaceans, sea turtles and even Humboldt squid. An international team of more than 65 TOPP collaborators will monitor the migrations of these animals in the context of the conditions in the water surrounding them, in an effort to learn not only where they go but also what factors control their movements.

"People have been studying animal migrations for many years," said Costa, who has worked extensively on marine mammals, "but this is the first time that anybody has tried to take a larger, ecosystem-scale approach. By working in a broad collaboration, we can start to ask questions about how the whole open ocean system works."

The magnitude of the task is daunting. Over the first three years of the program, the TOPP team has coordinated a dozen workshops, with representative experts on each animal group as well as oceanographers, computer modelers, database managers, educators and journalists. The result of these workshops was a research p

Contact: Mark Shwartz
Stanford University

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