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Seals phone home

Seals are to be given mobile phone technology to “phone home” new insights into their whereabouts, feeding and behaviour.

The project, based on Siemens Mobile technology, will involve the University of St Andrews Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU), a world leader in the study of seal ecology, developing special tags which will collect and relay dive and position information from grey seals and “text message” the data back to St Andrews when they return to land after feeding trips.

The novel study, the first example of mobile phone technology being used in this way, will explore the feeding, ecology and survivorship of grey seals in the UK.

Funded by the University, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Siemens Mobile, the project is the latest in a series of leading-edge research techniques developed by SMRU which have delivered important new information, not only about the seals themselves, but also their wider interaction with the marine environment. The information is actively informing policies on marine mammal management and conservation.

Once developed, the tiny telemetry “phone tags” will be harmlessly glued to a seal’s fur and will provide a more efficient and effective means of relaying data about seal activity than is currently possible. (The tags will fall off when the seals naturally moult).

Around 38,000 grey seals are born on land at breeding colonies in the UK each November. After being suckled by their mothers for 18 days, they are deserted and left to fend for themselves. The next couple of months are crucial as they explore the seas, often travelling hundreds of kilometres. During this time, they must learn how to navigate at sea and find fish before they starve – all without any parental help. Only about half of them make it to their first birthday.

The study will be split into two phases. In phase one, simple mobile phone tags will regularly send text messages from grey seal pups to computers at the University, allowing scientists to examine which factors affect their survival through their first year. In phase two, GPS (Global Positioning System) and depth sensors will be added, allowing, through GPRS, (General Packet Radio Service) massive volumes of detailed track and dive behaviour to be sent ashore.

Bernie McConnell, Senior Research Scientist at SMRU, who will conduct the study in conjunction with Ailsa Hall said, “Over the last 10 years, we have developed satellite telemetry techniques to track marine mammals at sea, on species from the Arctic to the Antarctic. This has led to amazing insights into how marine mammals live and behave at sea. Many of these species frequently come close to shore and, therefore, within areas of GSM mobile phone coverage. So we now plan to exploit the global GSM infrastructure and use mobile phone technology to communicate information – initially in the form of text messages – from seals back to land. This heralds an exciting new era in the study of marine mammals and our ability to communicate with wildlife. Furthermore, the information we obtain will be of direct benefit to the conservation of marine mammals. Ultimately, we also hope to plan a number of educational and community initiatives to communicate this exciting study to a broader audience.”

Meanwhile, Louise Cardwell, Product Manager at Siemens ICM Wireless Modules UK and Ireland said, “Siemens take much pride in Research and Development so, when Siemens Wireless Modules were approached by the SMRU to be involved in the project, we were delighted. The SMRU presented research plans for the future including how Siemens ICM can work in partnership with them. Siemens pride themselves in any involvement in the environment but this is certainly an area that has never been explored before and we are therefore looking forward to working closely with the SMRU and the University of St Andrews in exploring the day-to-day activities of the seals in the UK. We see this as a great way to use new technology and are pleased to be part of the development in sea mammal research, not only on an educational level but also as a new way to communicate with wildlife¿.

The SMRU is a world-class research centre, dedicated to exploring the physiology, ecology and behaviour of seals and whales and the corresponding implications for conservation and management. The Unit, primarily funded by NERC, provides advice to government departments and international organisations on all aspects of marine mammal science.

For more information, visit the SMRU website – http://www.smru.st- and.ac.uk.

ENDS

NOTE TO EDITORS

SIEMENS IC MOBILE WILL FORMALLY ANNOUNCE THE PARTNERSHIP WITH THE UNIVERSITY OF ST ANDREWS AT SIEMENS IC MOBILE, WIRELESS MODULES MEDIA WORKSHOP, LE MERIDIEN HOTEL, PICADILLY, LONDON AT 11AM ON THURSDAY 6 JUNE 2002.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT SIMON ROBINSON, SIEMENS – 01344 850 301 OR 07808 825 882 OR EMAIL SIMON.ROBINSON@SIEMENS.CO.UK OR LOUISE CARDWELL, SIEMENS – 01344 396 671 OR 07808 824 899 OR EMAIL LOUISE.CARDWELL@SIEMENS.CO.UK.

BERNIE MCCONNELL WILL BE AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEW – 07764 161 891 OR 01334 463280 OR EMAIL B.MCCONNELL@SMRU.AC.UK.

RANGE OF PICS OF GREY SEALS (JPEG FORM) AVAILABLE FROM CLAIRE GRAINGER – 01334 462530 OR 07730 415 015 OR EMAIL CG24@ST- ANDREWS.AC.UK.

ISSUED BY BEATTIE MEDIA ON BEHALF OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ST ANDREWS REF: SIEMENS- SEALS/STANDREWS/CHG/6JUNE2002

 

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