Graduate Student begins Dive Behavior Study

If you visit our facility over the next few months, you may notice many of our patients wearing fancy new accessories – dive recorders.  As part of UNE graduate student Amber Thomas’ Master’s project, during the summer of 2012, many harbor seal pups at MARC will be carting small devices on their backs that will record their dive patterns in the pools – how long they stay at a certain depth, how often they dive, how much time they spend snoozing at the surface of the water.

The tags will look something like this prototype that was attached yesterday to our very own “Stinger”.

Small dive recorder being glued to Stinger

To attach the device to Stinger, we let him relax poolside for a few hours while his coat dried.  Then with a quick restraint session, the tag was glued to his back using basic tagging cement.  It’s the same stuff we use to attach the small orange ID numbers to pup’s heads during the summer to help us identify them.

An easy restraint to attach the tag

Amber wanted to see if the same product – which is really gentle to the animals- will be strong enough to hold the dive meters in place.   Testing it in the winter on larger animals will allow Amber to make sure the setup works well enough to be used on small pups that are in rehabilitation over the summer.

Stinger with his new dive recorder

So what does Amber have to say about her research?

My research looks at how diving behavior and body oxygen stores (which allow seals to remain submerged underwater for long periods of time) change throughout the nursing and post-weaning periods in harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) pups at the Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center.  To test diving behavior, we will deploy a dive recorder on each seal pup after it comes into MARC.  The recorder will record the amount of time the seal spends under the water or hauled out, and how long and how deep they dive.

The dive recorders will only be on the animals while they are at MARC, and we’ll remove them before they head back out into the wild.  It would be great to leave these tags on them to continue capturing data after they’re released, but the data can’t be retrieved without having the device in hand…. and if we’re doing things right, we never see our patients again once we’ve returned them to the wild.  That makes it a bit tricky to get the dive recorders back!


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