International science team tracks ocean predators around the globe

lan that extends to 2010.

At the same time, the TOPP team managed to deploy more than 800 tags on 17 different animal species. These pilot field studies were focused on testing new and existing technologies and refining the methods for large-scale deployments. Through these studies, new electronic tagging technologies are being developed and several significant discoveries have been made, Block said. "We're studying the Pacific Ocean from the top predators' viewpoint for the first time in human history," she noted. "We're already seeing a story about Pacific bluefin beginning to unfold, and it's amazing."

Tunas, sharks and seals

And now, in addition to tagging bluefin, Block and her TOPP colleagues from NMFS and ICCAT are tagging all three tuna species that gather off the California and Mexican coasts: bluefin, yellowfin and albacore. TOPP researchers also are tagging numerous shark species including white, mako, blue and salmon sharks that range from Alaska to Baja California.

These fishes cross the largest ocean on Earth to move from one feeding area back to a breeding region. How and when such migrations occur has been a mystery, Block said: "We are watching salmon sharks do things we never expected them to do. We also have brought together a dedicated group of leatherback sea turtle biologists to tag animals in Costa Rica, and we're going to figure out how to keep these animals from going extinct. It's a very exciting time for the TOPP program, and we're just getting started."

One realization TOPP scientists had as they began shaping their research collaboration was that the animals themselves could provide valuable information about their ocean habitats. Because many of the electronic tags collect oceanographic data, such as water temperature, tagged animals can act as "autonomous ocean sensors," going places and collecting data that would be costly and difficult for humans to obtain.

"Northern elephant s

Contact: Mark Shwartz
Stanford University

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