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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Methods Digest – December 2009

A round-up of methods papers published in the last month. If there are any papers that you think should be featured, email me or leave a comment and I will add them.

Liam Revell has a paper in Evolution on size correction and principal components analysis of phylogenetic comparative data. Olivier Gimenez and colleagues also have a paper in the same issue on generating fitness landscapes using mark-recapture data.

Systematic Biology has a number of papers with interesting methods: Campbell & Lapointe have a paper on the use and validity of composite taxa in phylogenetic analysis; Fitzjohn et al. have a nice paper on estimating trait-dependent speciation and extinction rates in phylogenies that are not complete; Bui Quang Minh and colleages present an algorithm for efficiently estimating phylogenetic diversity; Michael D. Pirie, Aelys M. Humphreys, Nigel P. Barker, and H. Peter Linder present an approach for dealing with implications of conflicting gene trees on inferences of evolutionary history above the species level.

In Conservation Biology, Angelia Vanderlaan and Christopher Tagaart describe how a voluntary scheme for ships to avoid cetain areas has worked in preventing lethal strikes on right whales.

In Ecological Applications, Cang Hui and colleagues compare approaches for extrapolating population sizes from abundance-occupancy relationships. Matthew Etterson et al. look at the problem of estimating population trends when there is detection heterogeneity and overdipsersion in the data. Paul Beier and co-workers use a case study to examine the use of least-cost modelling to design wildlife corridors.

Oscar Puebla and colleagues describe in Ecology a study that estimates dispersal using genetic distances in a coral reef fish. Sean Connolly et al. have a new bootstrap approach for testing species abudance models in the same issue. Andy Royle et al. present Bayesian method for estimating population sizes using camera trap data. David G. Angeler, Olga Viedma, and JoséM. Moreno present a critique of time lag analysis in time series modelling. David Carslake et al. have a paper presenting useful review of constraints and rules for elasticity analysis in matrix modelling. Finally in that same issue Paul Stapp and Daniel J. Salkeld look at the use of stable isotopes in studying host-parasite interactions.

Finally for this month in Animal Conservation, Heidy Kikillus et al. look at minimising false negatives in predicting distributions of invasive species. (Thanks to Andrew Tyre for pointing this one out).