Crowdsourcing oceanic data with the help of cyborg seals
If you wanted to gather information about the depths of the ocean under the Antarctic, you could possibly send a robot, maybe two, to drive around and take some measurements. You’d probably need a support crew and some careful planning to get the most out of the device’s limited time under the ice. Or you could enlist the help of some local seals, who were going to make that trip thousands of times anyway (and then gather data on them as well!)
The latter has been successfully developed by Marine Mammals Exploring the Oceans Pole to Pole (or MEOP), who has now started publishing years of seal-gathered data. Like lots of good crowdsourcing projects, this one asks very little its participants, as the seals only need to carry on with their normal routines while ignoring the device glued to their forehead. The one-pound attachment houses a transmitter, a thermometer, a salinity meter, and of course batteries to power it all for around ten months. The data is automatically transmitted via satellite back to researchers in Scotland, while the sensor itself is sloughed off when the seal moults.
400,000 dive profiles and counting
The data that MEOP has been gathering is unique thanks to the travel habits of the seals. These animals routinely travel around the Arctic and Antarctic seas, and can dive down up to 6,890 feet when hunting. With nearly 1,000 seals gathering data, we now have a much richer understanding not only of seal behavior but also environmental trends like the movement of glaciers.
Future expansions of the program aim to add new kinds of sensors to track things like oxygen and chlorophyll concentrations. While seals are still the primary carriers of the monitors, other ‘participants’ have included turtles, whales, and even sharks.
Source: Seals Help Scientists Probe Remote Seas by AFP, Discovery News