Accompanying Marine Mammals into the Abyss: The Benefits of Electronic Tag Data for Undersea Tracking

Post provided by Christophe Laplanche, Tiago Marques and Len Thomas

1km Deep

Most marine mammal species spend the majority of their lifetime at sea… underwater. Some species (like sperm whales, beaked whales, and elephant seals) can go routinely as deep as 1000m below sea level. To mammals like us, these incredible depths seem uninhabitable. It’s cold, dark, under high pressure (100kg/cm²) and 1km from air! Yet deep-diving marine mammals thrive there and have colonized every deep ocean on the planet. They have developed amazing capabilities for that purpose – including efficient swimming, an advanced auditory system, sonar (in some cases), thermal insulation, extreme breath holding abilities and resistance to high pressure.

How is that possible?

Spending most of their time at depth makes them quite difficult to study. And we have a lot of questions to ask them. How do they balance swimming cost versus food intake? Do they forage cooperatively, in groups? For those with sonar, how does it work? With increasing human activities (oil exploration, military sonar, sea transport, fishing etc.) an important new question arises: how do they cope with us?

Researchers tagging a Cuvier's beaked whale with a DTAG sound tag (soundtags.st-andrews.ac.uk) in the Ligurian Sea (© T. Pusser)

Researchers tagging a Cuvier’s beaked whale with a DTAG sound tag (soundtags.st-andrews.ac.uk) in the Ligurian Sea (© T. Pusser)

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