Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Seal Bulls in the Service of Science

02.06.2010
Elephant Seals send Scientific Data from the Antarctic to Bremerhaven via Satellite Transmitter

“Gustavo” is an imposing bull always in search of the best feeding grounds. The elephant seal weighing 3 tons and measuring 4 metres in length belongs to a group of 14 animals that serve researchers of the Alfred Wegener Institute as scientific assistants since recently. At the beginning of the Antarctic winter - from mid-March to the end of April - the mighty elephant seal bulls were tagged with state-of-the-art satellite transmitters at the Dallmann Laboratory on King George Island. In the coming months marine biologists Dr. Joachim Plötz and Dr. Horst Bornemann can now follow from their desk in Bremerhaven where the animals migrate, where they find prey at what depth and under what oceanographic conditions the food supply is exceptionally good in the Southern Ocean.

“We have just returned from the Antarctic Peninsula and still have fresh impressions of the incredible experience when you have numerous elephant seal bulls with their loud deep roar in front of you and imagine attaching a satellite transmitter the size of your palm to some of these huge creatures,” Joachim Plötz describes a not entirely everyday situation even for the experienced seal researcher. Every year from March to April the males of the only reproduction colony of the Southern elephant seal in the Antarctic come to the South Shetland Islands, a group that also includes King George Island, for moulting. The scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association took advantage of this narrow time window to furnish some of the animals with transmitters that operate using the satellite-aided ARGOS location system. Once moulting is over after three weeks, the bulls go back to their migratory life and do not return to land until six months later to mate with the females in the Antarctic spring.

During the annual migrations to their oceanic feeding grounds elephant seals cover thousands of kilometres. They dive down to depths of over 2000 metres and remain under water for periods of over an hour. When a seal with a transmitter dives, it collects data - even under the ice - and then appears on the surface again to breathe after some time. While it breathes fresh air, the recorded data package is sent to a satellite that passes on the signals received. With a little luck the transmitter will continuously transfer data for a year. When the next moulting takes place, the wonder of microelectronics developed by the Scottish Sea Mammal Research Unit will then fall off. Immediately after evaluation the measured data from this German-Argentinian-South African joint project will be made available to other world data centres via the Publishing Network for Geoscientific & Environmental Data (PANGAEA) at the Alfred Wegener Institute and used by various international cooperative scientific ventures.

During the extended travels through the Southern Ocean the transmitters not only send the geographic position and diving depth of the respective seal, but at the same time data on the temperature and salt concentration of the body of water through which the animal is swimming and thus important physical parameters from which, for example, conclusions can be drawn on the currents in the ocean. “Elephant seals mainly feed on fish and squid,” Plötz's colleague Horst Bornemann explains why the researchers can draw conclusions regarding the spatial and temporal distribution of particularly productive zones in the Southern Ocean based on seal migrations. “They lead a nomadic life in the ice desert of the Antarctic Ocean and are always looking for regions with ample prey. Based on seasonal changes in the migration behaviour of seals, we thus obtain indications of when, where and at what depth exceptionally high numbers of fish and squid occur and with what oceanographic conditions a good supply of food correlates.”

Even though the transmitters can hold out for a year, the data in the coming months are especially sought after. During this period the Antarctic winter prevails, the Southern Ocean is covered with ice and continuous measured data, particularly from the winter months, are rare. “Research vessels cannot sail in the Antarctic Ocean at this time. Our seals,” say Plötz and Bornemann full of conviction, “are therefore genuine pioneers of research.”

Notes for Editors:

Your contacts at the Alfred Wegener Institute are Dr. Joachim Plötz (phone +49 471 4831-1309; e-mail: Joachim.Ploetz@awi.de) and Dr. Horst Bornemann (phone +49 471 4831-1862; e-mail: Horst.Bornemann@awi.de). Your contacts in the Communication and Media Department are Ralf Röchert (phone +49 471 4831-1680; e-mail: Ralf.Roechert@awi.de) and Folke Mehrtens (phone +49 471 4831-2007; e-mail: Folke.Mehrtens@awi.de).

The Alfred Wegener Institute conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and oceans of the high and mid latitudes. It coordinates polar research in Germany and provides major infrastructure to the international scientific community, such as the research icebreaker Polarstern and stations in the Arctic and Antarctic. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the sixteen research centres of the Helmholtz Association, the largest scientific organisation in Germany.

Margarete Pauls | idw
Further information:
http://www.awi.de

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact, High Frequency DC/DC Converter for Aviation

The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

UTSA study describes new minimally invasive device to treat cancer and other illnesses

02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product

02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?

02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>