Dan Costa of UCSC presented his research on using elephant seals and other seals as data collectors. Their ability to dive deep makes them preferable to mechanical remote sensing vehicles -- they just dive where they want to go. By attaching electronic equipment to them, his team has been able to collect data from places that were previously inaccessible. "Technology is allowing us to do things we only dreamed of until recently," he said.
These animal oceanographers have provided data on ocean weather, the fronts that move through the ocean as storms move through the atmosphere. The devices they wear report back on changes in temperature, condition of ice, where krill are. Among elephant seals, usually females age six or seven are tagged. He told about the serendipitous mistake one team of students made, mis-reading a tag and attaching a device to a 17-year-old female. The amazing thing is, out of all the seals on the beach, she was one who had been tagged 11 years earlier as a six-year-old. The device recorded her journey across the Pacific, far west past the tip of the Aleutians, the same journey she made 11 years before. He said he's still kicking himself that he didn't ask the students to tag her again the next year. She was reported on the beach with a new pup through 2010. The devices are revealing more about elephant seal behavior, too. Females and males have different diving and feeding behavior. I'll post more on that next week.