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NATURE

'Sealcam' gives scientists a peek under the ice

seal

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Scientists attach a camera to a seal to understand how it lives.
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February 12, 1999
Web posted at: 9:32 a.m. EST (1432 GMT)

McMURDO STATION, Antarctica (CNN) -- Researchers are learning more about the underwater behavior of Weddell seals by attaching tiny video cameras and data logging devices to their backs.

The seals may look cute, but they're very efficient hunters in the harsh Antarctic environment.

According to this week's issue of the journal Science, researchers have learned that the seals rely more on visual cues and less on acoustic cues than expected.

While the seals are quite vocal on land -- with at least 34 different sounds in their vocabulary -- they made almost no sounds under water. This suggests that they don't use echo-location to find their prey.

The video from the "sealcams" placed on the backs of four seals showed them blowing air into cracks in the ice to flush out fish that were hiding there, something scientists hadn't observed before.

While this is not the first time cameras have been attached to marine mammals, researchers say this instrument package is unique because it records audio and location.

It also gives scientists a three-dimensional picture of the path each seal followed and its speed during their 20 to 25 minute dives under the ice.

Researchers hope to study 10 to 15 seals per year for the next three years.

The research team was led by Randall W. Davis of Texas A&M University. The National Science Foundation funded the study.


RELATED STORIES:
NMFS accused of waffling on sea lion protection
November 16, 1998
Killer whales put Alaska sea otters at risk
October 19, 1998
Antarctic waters breathe life
July 21, 1998

RELATED SITES:
Texas A&M University
  • Randall W. Davis
National Science Foundation
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