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Scientists use seals as 'underwater eyes'

Technology provides rare glimpse of rare fish species

By employing one underwater species to spy on two others through novel use of technology, Antarctic researchers have gained new insights into two little-known fish species. The team expanded their knowledge base by equipping Weddell seals to follow the fish and record their behavior.

The fieldwork by an eight-member team at McMurdo Station in Antarctica provides a rare glimpse into the habits of two very important Southern Ocean species, the Antarctic silverfish and the Antarctic toothfish, which is prized by commercial fishing fleets. It could also have wider applications in studying other species that thrive at great depths, the researchers argue.

The results of the work, supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) were reported in the online version of the journal Marine Biology. The paper will appear in print in the March edition of the publication.

To obtain the images and data, Lee Fuiman of the University of Texas at Austin, Randall Davis of Texas A&M University, Galveston, and Terrie Williams of the University of California, Santa Cruz, equipped 15 Weddell seals over the course of three Antarctic summers with a video camera, infrared LEDs and data recorders to track both their movements from their breathing holes through the water and their interactions with their prey.

This use of a marine predator as a guided, high-speed sampling device for its midwater prey provided clarification and new insights into the behavior, interactions, and ecology of species that have been especially difficult to study, they write. This new information expands the base of knowledge of two of the most important fish species in Antarctica and indicates that some existing notions about their distribution and behavior may need to be revised.

Much that is known about these key fish species comes from a variety of indirect evidence su
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Contact: Peter West
pwest@nsf.gov
703-292-8070
National Science Foundation
16-Jan-2002


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