JPL tagging sea life to act as organic weather balloons of the ocean

February 7, 2007 at 3:24 pm in Oceanic

bla-jplsealion.jpgOceanographers and biologists are teaming up for a JPL program to map the oceans more accurately using tagged sea life such as Sea Lions and Elephant Seals.

Biologists get data about the animals habits such as where they go, how deep the swim and how long they stay there while the oceanographers get info about water temperatures and salinity and possibly why the animals are going there in the first place. The project is called Tagging of Pacific Pelagics (TOPP).

The Sea Lions are being tagged in Santa Cruz and the Elephant Seals on the central coast in but that doesn’t mean that you can’t expect to find a sea lion such as the one pictured in our waters. Both species are known for their wide-ranging behaviors.

Tagged Elephant Seals have been measured to dive as deep as 1,600 meters (yeah, that’s a mile) and stay down for over 90 minutes as well as migrating 3,000-5,000 miles each year (going from the California coast to Alaska and deep water areas in between). For this reason they are excellent candidates for getting a better sense for what’s out there in the unknown depths around us.

zone_01_060.gifI’m probably not describing how incredibly awesome this project is. You can read lots more about TOPP at their seriously cool website: Topp Census. But the coolest part is the maps. Click on a creature they’re tracking and you can see where they’ve been and what it’s been like where they were (water temps, presence of chlorophyll). They’re updated daily. Blue Whales, Fin Whales, Sharks, Turtles, Sea Lions, Elephant Seals, Seabirds, Fish … they’ve tagged a huge variety of creatures.

There are also status reports that provide more scope and perspective to the project, such as case histories. I know this is going to be a regular read for me.

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