Miniature oceanographic sensors attached to southern elephant seals have provided scientists with an unprecedented peek into the secret lives of seals.
The measurements reveal in detail where the seals go on their winter feeding trips, where they find food and where they dont, and help explain why some populations have remained stable since 1950 while others have declined.
The results are the subject of a paper published today in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the USA.
The work was carried out by an international team including scientists from France, the United States and the United Kingdom and included Australian researchers Professor Mark Hindell from the University of Tasmanias Animal Wildlife Research Unit, Dr Steve Rintoul, from the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystem Cooperative Research Centre and CSIRO (through the Wealth from Oceans Flagship), and Professor Nathan Bindoff from the University of Tasmania and the Flagship. Lead author of the paper is Dr Martin Biuw, from the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St Andrews in the UK.
Until recently, the response of large marine predators to environmental variability has been almost impossible to observe directly.
Sensors were deployed on 85 elephant seals from key colonies in January and February 2003 and lasted throughout most of the Antarctic winter season. The longest track was 326 days and up to 30,000 profiles of temperature and salinity were obtained.
By simultaneously recording movements, dive behaviour and oceanographic conditions, the new sensors allow researchers to examine in detail how elephant seals respond to changes in ocean conditions.
Most of what we know about these seals has been based on observations made when the seals haul out on sub Antarctic islands to breed, such as the number and physical condition of the animals, Professor Hindell said. In particular, we have had no
Contact: Craig Macaulay