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'Tweeting' seals chart the world's oceans

Seal with tag Image copyright Lars Boehme

A decade of information about the world's harshest seas has been gathered together from specially tagged wandering seals.

The data, transmitted from remote and icy locations, is now available online to academics around the world.

Seals wearing sensors built at the University of St Andrews have produced nearly 400,000 environmental profiles of the Southern Ocean.

Dr Lars Boehme said the critical flow of information was "like tweeting".

The sensors are said to be non-invasive and fall off when the seals moult, and the university said they are the only devices of their kind that can be attached to animals.

Image copyright MEOP

The tags send short pieces of information periodically back to researchers via satellites. This is then processed in St Andrews and shared with international scientists and the Met office for use in weather forecasting.

Dr Boehme, from the St Andrews Sea Mammal Research Unit, said: "The information sent back to us gives us details about the seal's immediate physical environment. It's like tweeting.

"Changes in the polar oceans have global ramifications and a significant influence on weather and climate. Sustained observations are required to detect, interpret and respond to change and a strategic system of observations combining a range of platforms is critical in maintaining the flow of information."

Image copyright Lars Boehme

The portal containing the decade of data, named Marine Mammals Exploring the Oceans Pole-to-Pole, was launched on Monday.

Mike Fedak, a professor of biology at the university, said: "The fact that animals have collected the data is an interesting innovation in ocean observation.

"But perhaps of more general importance is that data from these remote and inaccessible places now gives us a much clearer picture of the state of the world's oceans.

"We have shown that data from these far-flung locations is critical to understanding the broader state of the global ocean."

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