Antarctic Seal Cam
INTRO: If you want to videotape schools of fish, what better way than to strap a camera onto a seal. That's what scientists are doing in Antarctica. Doug Schneider has more in this week's Arctic Science Journeys Radio
STORY: Every once in a while, a story comes our way that's just too good to be true, even if it isn't exactly related to the high Arctic. That was the case when we heard about scientists in Antarctica strapping video cameras to the foreheads of seals, so they could learn more about schools of fish under the Antarctic ice.
Lee Fuiman is a marine biologist at the University of Texas, and the mastermind of the seals-as-cameramen idea.
FUIMAN: "The seals have experience inasmuch as they know where to look for fish. You couldn't ask for something better to sample fish than something else that survives by finding fish."
Fuiman says he came up with the idea to strap cameras and infrared lights onto some 15 Weddell seals because human scuba divers can only stay a short time underwater in this harsh environment, and were too slow to capture fast-moving fish on film.
FUIMAN: "You have to imagine it. You've got three meters of ice and a couple of meters of snow on top of that, so it's very hard to get into the water. And it's very cold—the water is below freezing—and it's very, very dark because you've got all that ice and snow on top. And once you get down to any reasonable depth, there's a lot of pressure. So it's a very, very difficult place to study."
Lee Fuiman says it might be the first time scientists have used one marine animal to study another. The seals were recaptured after four or five days and the video cameras were removed. Fuiman says they brought back information about the location and habits of silverfish and toothfish—two species that are important to the Antarctic's marine ecosystem. He says that information could be useful in future efforts to protect the marine environment around this icy continent.
OUTRO: Our thanks to Earthwatch Radio's Diane Pansky for help with this week's story. This is Arctic Science Journeys Radio, a production of the Alaska Sea Grant Program and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. I'm Doug Schneider.
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Thanks to the following individual for help preparing this script:
Lee A. Fuiman
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