Could marine animals help humans monitor the oceans?


Washington: Marine animals, including sharks, penguins, turtles and other marine life, could help humans monitor the oceans by transmitting oceanographic information from electronic tags, a study suggests.

Thousands of marine animals are tagged for various research and conservation purposes, but at present the information gathered is not widely used to track climate change and other changes in the oceans.

The study was published in the Journal of Global Change Biology.

Instead, surveillance is mostly done by research vessels, underwater drones, and thousands of floating sensors that drift with the currents. However, large areas of the ocean still remain under-sampled, leaving gaps in our knowledge.

A team led by the University of Exeter says animals with sensors can fill many of these gaps through natural behavior such as driving under ice, swimming in shallow water or moving against the current.

“We want to highlight the huge potential of animal sensors to tell us about the oceans,” said lead author Dr David March of the Center for Ecology and Conservation at the Penryn campus of Exeter in Cornwall. .

“It’s already happening on a limited scale, but there is room for a lot more.

“We looked at 183 species – including tunas, sharks, rays, whales and flying seabirds – and the areas they inhabit.

“We have processed over 1.5 million measurements from floating sensors to identify poorly sampled areas (18.6% of the world’s ocean surface).”

“By comparing this with the gaps in current observations from drift profiling sensors (known as Argo floats), we identified poorly sampled areas where data from animal sensors would help fill in the gaps,” said Professor Brendan Godley, who heads Exeter Marine.

“These include seas near the poles (above 60 degrees latitude) and shallow and coastal areas where Argo profilers are at risk of touching land.

“The Caribbean and the seas around Indonesia, as well as other semi-enclosed seas, are good examples of places where Argo profilers struggle because of these issues.”

Seals tagged in the poles have already supplemented ocean observing systems, as they can reach areas under the ice inaccessible to other instruments.

The study suggests that data collected by turtles or sharks could also improve ocean monitoring in other remote and critical areas such as the tropics, with great influence on global climate variability and weather.

The researchers say their work is a call for more collaboration between environmentalists and oceanographers.

Professor Godley added: “It is important to note that animal welfare is paramount and we only suggest that animals that are already being tracked for ethically defensible and conservation relevant ecological research be recruited as oceanographers. We do not advocate that animals be tracked only. for oceanography. “


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