Special News ReportMARINE BIOLOGY

First Glimpse at Hidden Life of Seals

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Science  30 Jan 1998:
Vol. 279, Issue 5351, pp. 657
DOI: 10.1126/science.279.5351.657

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MCMURDO SOUND-- Weddell seals can hold their breath for 80 minutes while swimming and can range up to 5 kilometers from a lone breathing hole and still find their way back. And they efficiently locate fish in the inky waters. But researchers know little about how seals manage these feats or what else they do down deep. To study the secret lives of diving animals, a research team for a decade has been developing progressively smaller and more sophisticated cameras. In a talk that wowed fellow scientists last November at McMurdo Station, the main U.S. base in Antarctica, the team detailed their findings from the first field season of their 3-year project, including information about how the seals dive. Turning the "head cam" into a "butt cam," the researchers saw that the seals sank like rocks while hardly twitching a flipper. They speculate that the seals somehow alter their buoyancy to take advantage of pressure changes.