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Biologists share multi-million dollar funding

Scotland’s marine biologists have been awarded a share of a $5 million international grant to develop new instruments for collecting information about marine mammals and create digital databases on the diversity, distribution and abundance of marine life throughout the world.

The team from the University of St Andrews Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) will work on two separate projects – one on accelerating electronic tag development for tracking free-ranging marine mammals at sea and the other aimed at adapting the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS) for marine mammals, sea turtles and seabirds.

The first project will complete the development and testing of electronic tagging devices to be used to study the movements and behaviour of a wide range of marine mammals in the North Pacific Ocean including seals, albatrosses, whales, sea turtles, tuna, sharks and squid. Professor Mike Fedak, and a team including Bernie McConnell, Phil Lovell and Colin Hunter of SMRU, play a key role in the design of new instruments to monitor the behaviour of these large marine predators but will also use the animals themselves as platforms to monitor the marine ecosystem.

According to Professor Fedak, placing the instruments onboard animals will enable oceanographers to collect data which augments that ordinarily collected using conventional oceanographic means such as ships and data buoys – “By choosing appropriate marine species, we can achieve comprehensive, long-term monitoring from logistically difficult areas, in effect, using the animals’ particular distributions and expertise to sample critical locations. Such data can be crucial in understanding consequences of rapid climate change.”

The US-based National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP) and the Alfred P Sloan Foundation will support the project. It is being led by Stanford University and the University of California Santa Cruz. In addition to St Andrews, Stanford and Santa Cruz, the research team includes partners at Oregon State University, National Marine Fisheries Service and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The second project is aimed at developing the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS), a geographical information system designed to combine both old and new data relating to marine animal populations, and integrate it with environmental data. The project will create databases on the diversity, distribution and abundance of marine mammals, seabirds and turtles and will provide analytical tools for use by educators, students and researchers.

Professor John Harwood said, “Vast amounts of data on the distribution of marine mammals, seabirds and turtles have been collected over the last 100 years but much of it is very difficult to track down. Even when you can find it, it’s often in a form that can’t be analysed easily. The OBIS project funding provides a fantastic opportunity to make these data available to the wider scientific community so that they can be used to address some of this century’s most important environmental challenges.”

The second project is being led by Duke University Marine Laboratory – other partners working alongside St Andrews include the University of California, San Diego, University of Washington and College of the Atlantic.

ENDS

Issued by Beattie Media on behalf of the University of St Andrews For more information please contact Claire Grainger on 01334 462530, 07730 415 015 or email cg24@st-andrews.ac.uk Ref: smru/standrews/chg/15april2002

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