Environment Elephant seals provide eyes in the deep

Elephant seals provide eyes in the deep

It’s like having 287 mini submarines exploring the ocean depths. Using modern tracking technology, University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) researchers and their colleagues from eight countries have used miniaturised, satellite-linked tracking equipment to follow the movements of elephant seals in the Southern Ocean.

Elephant seals dive almost continuously and therefore provide valuable high-resolution information on ocean attributes, such as temperature and salinity, wherever they travel. Researchers tracked more than one million individual elephant seal dives in 568,000 different locations.

For the first time, biologists can now monitor ocean conditions and animal behaviour at the same time. The research provided new insights into remote and previously inaccessible locations while revealing where seals forage and how they respond in different environmental conditions.

There has been a long-term decrease in the number of breeding seals on Macquarie Island. Scientists have linked this to the increasing sea ice in the Southern Ocean which excludes the seals from productive foraging areas. Data from the study will help to inform conservation-oriented management policies and actions.

Monitoring our oceans plays a critical role in assessing the effects of climate change. Studies like this one demonstrate the importance of funding for our universities to keep Australia clever.