An international team of researchers, led by the University of Exeter, recommended that a wide variety of marine species could be used to monitor the world’s oceans. Using electronic tags, scientists can fill gaps in our understanding of the oceans using the natural behavior of sharks, penguins, turtles, seals and other species.
Three quarters of the Earth’s surface is covered by seawater, and a comprehensive understanding of the oceans is important in addressing everything from limited fishing to climate change. The problem is that the oceans are much larger than most people think, and many places are not easily accessible.
Currently, scientists use satellites and aircraft, as well as survey fleets, underwater drones and floating sensors to collect oceanographic data, but their range is very limited. However, many animals are also routinely labeled for biological research, so the Exeter-led team recommends adding additional sensors to collect ocean monitoring data.
Some scientists believe that marine animals can not only act as an additional sensor platform, but also that their natural behavior can detect areas inaccessible to conventional sensors, including deep diving, swimming under sea ice, operating in shallow water and countercurrent.
David March, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the Penryn Campus at the University of Exeter in Cornwall, said: “We want to highlight the huge potential of animal transmission sensors in accessing our marine information. This has already happened on a limited scale, but there is more room. “
“We looked at 183 species of fish – including tuna, sharks, devilfish, whales and seabirds – and their known habitats. We have processed more than 1.5 million measurements from floating sensors to identify areas with poor sampling (18.6% of the world’s sea surface). “
The researchers hope that using sensors placed on animals will fill in gaps in poorly sampled areas such as the Arctic Sea and shallow coastal areas and semi-enclosed waters. According to researchers at the University of Exeter, seals that have used labels to collect data under polar ice and can use turtles or sharks in remote tropical areas are important for understanding global weather and climate.
“It is important to note that the health of animals is paramount, and we are simply recommending that animals that have been ethically defended and conservation-related ecological studies are recruited as oceanographers,” said study leader Professor Brendan Godley. “We don’t advocate tracking animals only for oceanography. “
The study was published in Global Change Biology.