Seals wearing sensor hats help researchers study the oceans

Oceanographers are counting on seals to help them collect data about the continental shelves of Antarctica where it's too difficult or dangerous for ships to travel. The researchers from Japan's National Institute of Polar Research and colleagues used glue to attach Rubik's Cube-sized devices that weigh about half a kilogram to seals' heads. The sensors collect conductivity, temperature, and depth data and then transmit that information via satellite relay. From Eurekalert:

The continental shelves of Antarctica are one of the most biologically productive regions in the world's oceans as a result of the large amount of nutrients generated by interactions between ocean, sea ice and ice shelf[…]

But due to the difficulty of conducting oceanographic observations by ship in continental shelf areas covered by landfast ice, these cross-shelf water exchanges and their seasonal variations are not well understood[…]

The investigation showed that seals with oceanographic sensors attached to them could be powerful tools to explore oceanographic and ecological conditions across a very wide range of Antarctic continental shelves covered with landfast ice. Now that this has been demonstrated, the team wants to go further and estimate the amount of water and prey being transported onto the shelves by this wind- driven process. Ultimately, the researchers hope to be able to use these data to predict how the Antarctic coastal marine ecosystem is responding to the ongoing rapid changes in Antarctic sea ice.

Photo by Nobuo Kokubun (NIPR)