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Wiring the ocean

For most people, the sea is a deep, dark mystery. That is changing, though, as scientists find innovative ways to track the movements of ocean-going creatures.

Stanford marine sciences professor and Stanford Woods Institute Senior Fellow Barbara Block is using technology to enable live feeds of animal movements relayed by a series of "ocean WiFi hotspots." This could help protect marine ecosystems by revolutionizing how we understand their function, population structure, fisheries management and species' physiological and evolutionary constraints.

Block will explain how she is studying pelagic creatures with telemetry tags, and how she plane to "wire" the ocean at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Boston. Her talk, "Building a Wired Ocean With Electronic Tagged Animals and Mobile Gliders," will be part of a symposium called "Networks of Discovery: Delivering Unsurpassed Insight Into Changing Global Ecosystems" from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 17 in room 312 of the Hynes Convention Center.

The miniaturization of sensors for tags, combined with acoustic receiver-carrying mobile glider platforms and instrumented buoys, has vastly expanded our capacity to obtain data from oceans at levels as small as bacteria and as large as blue whales. Block's work is part of a larger effort to establish a global network of instruments to more comprehensively study the biosphere as it is altered – at unprecedented rates – by human activity and climate change.

Block's project, the Blue Serengeti Initiative, builds on the Tagging of Pacific Predators program, part of the global Census of Marine Life, a decade-long study that invested $25 million in electronic tagging, enabling marine scientists from five nations to map ocean hot spots within the California Current.

At the AAAS meeting in Boston, Block will discuss her new project and explain how she uses wireless devices track the comings and goings of key ocean species.

Block is the Charles and Elizabeth Prothro Professor in Marine Sciences at Stanford University. Her lab is based at Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station, and her research focuses on how large pelagic fishes utilize the open ocean environment. Block and colleagues at the Monterey Bay Aquarium established the Tuna Research and Conservation Center, where they are employing new techniques in remote wildlife tracking and data collection, and molecular genetics to directly examine the short- and long-term movement patterns, population structure and behavior of tunas and billfishes.

Bjorn Carey | EurekAlert!
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