Instrumented Seals Collect Data from the Polar Oceans

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For over a decade now, seals have been (unwittingly) collecting information about the oceans they swim in and virtually reporting back to researchers at the University of St. Andrews. As part of the Marine Mammals Exploring the Oceans Pole to Pole (MEOP), scientists have developed special sensors—which are non-invasive and fall off when the seals molt—that automatically transmit information about a seal's environment via satellite. (Dr. Lars Boehme of the St. Andrews Sea Mammal Research Unit describes the process as "like tweeting.") The information transmitted provides insights into seal behavior—including migration patterns and food foraging habits—as well as environmental data from remote areas researchers rarely visit.

"Changes in the polar oceans have global ramifications and a significant influence on weather and climate," Boehme told the BBC. "Sustained observations are required to detect, interpret and respond to change and a strategic system of observations combining a range of platforms is critical in maintaining the flow of information."

Since 2004, the sensor-boasting seals have sent back several hundred thousand profiles of temperature and salinity for various locations. Yesterday, a portal launched making this data available to the public. This database gives scientists access to information about regions of the oceans virtually unreachable by humans, but naturally explored by seals.