Blue whales may be the largest animals ever to have inhabited the Earth. An adult can grow to 80 feet long and weigh up to 300,000 pounds.
Despite their enormous size, very little is known about the feeding, breeding and migratory habits of these leviathans.
But an international research team hopes to change all that by placing electronic tracking devices on a variety of whales, seals, seabirds, turtles, fish and squid whose lifestyles remain a mystery to science.
This week, more than 60 marine scientists and technicians came together at Stanfords Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, Calif., to design a pilot project demonstrating the feasibility of tracking thousands of sea creatures in the northern Pacific with the use of sophisticated electronic sensors. This unprecedented effort is a major component of the Census of Marine Life a 10-year program to assess the distribution of species in the worlds oceans.
"We havent spent enough time exploring our own planet," says Barbara A. Block, the Charles and Elizabeth Prothro Professor of Marine Sciences at Hopkins.
"We dont like to tell anyone were ignorant about the oceans, but we are," adds Block, who chaired the three-day workshop at Hopkins.
One goal of the meeting was to determine which animals would be the best candidates to launch the remote census project, which is scheduled to begin in 2002.
Scientists weighed the pros and cons of putting satellite-linked tags, timed data recorders and other electronic transmitting devices on different species of birds, marine mammals and fish. Among the criteria considered were the cost of each device (they can run thousands of dollars apiece) and the amount of effort required to physically tag each critter.
Two animals with proven track records among researchers were at the top of the list: the bluefin tuna, a large fish that Block has successfully tagged and studied; and the northern elephant seal, a marine mammal that has been the
Contact: Mark Shwartz