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November 16, 2006

Where the seals are

Protecting an endangered species requires understanding its habits.  In the case of a Hawaiian monk seal, it means going where the animal goes.  But how do you follow a seal who can out-dive even a champion freediver?

Remember the website where you could see what a cat does all day thanks to a small video camera attached to its collar?  That same idea was applied (literally) to Hawaiian monk seals in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands to discover what and where they eat. Researchers outfitted seals with Crittercams, which recorded video and geographic data such as location and depth as the seals went about their business.  They later followed the seals’ path by submersible to coral beds 500 meters below sea level, where seals can feed on their favorite fish without fear of predators.

Check out video from the submersible here.

And if you get a chance, see the full story in “Surviving Paradise,” a National Geographic Series episode airing on PBS.

Photo courtesy: NMFS Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center