Elephant seals - looking good

December 12, 2000

With looks only a mother could love, the full-grown male northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) gives the rest of us pause. With a large fleshy snout protruding from its two-to-six ton body, the male elephant seal can be quarrelsome and scrappy, bellowing during mating season with such ferocity that he can be heard a mile away. Lovable? Why, yes! Scientists funded by the Office of Naval Research definitely think so - and for good reason. These seals spend most of their time in the water, migrate thousands of miles, dive to depths over a mile down and remain submerged for as long as 120 minutes. With statistics like those, if these seals could talk, they would bring us a wealth of ocean information. So, scientists at the University of California at Santa Cruz did the next best thing. Placing small sensing devices on the seals' coats, marine biologists and oceanographers are gathering information not only on the mammals themselves, but also on sea temperatures and pressure from depths not normally reached by research ships and satellite sensing. The sensors weigh no more 5 pounds on land. They are slightly buoyant and shaped to minimize drag. When the seals return to their breeding grounds after several months at sea, they molt their old coats and literally drop the sensing devices at the researchers' feet after having carried them on a round trip of several thousand miles.
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Office of Naval Research

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