As part of our new science exhibit at the Alaska SeaLife Center, we asked you–the visitors–to write down your questions about the ocean, tagging, or marine research. The participation has been amazing and we’re going to highlight answers to your burning questions here on 60°N Science and social media (follow us on Facebook and Instagram).
The best part of this question is that there is no answer! Everyone’s journey to becoming a marine biologist is unique. For me, after high school I did 4 years of undergraduate studies, 2 years of study for a Master’s degree, and 4 years of study for my PhD–one right after another for 10 years!! During that time I also volunteered with conservation organizations, with research labs, and did internships to get more experience. But that isn’t the only path. My good friend and colleague took some time between undergraduate studies and was a kayak guide here in Seward, worked for the National Park Service, and then (after 5-6 years of work) went back to school for her degrees. We both ended up as postdocs together.
If you want to be a marine biologist I think the best advice I can give is to stay curious and look for any opportunities to engage with research and science at your school or town–even if it isn’t by the ocean! Remember, there isn’t one right path, and to enjoy the journey while you’re exploring science and the ocean!
The ocean might seem like empty blue space but many marine animals–fish, sharks, turtles, mammals, and birds–make amazing migrations across the expanse without landmarks, or a phone with GPS! You can check out this post from “Science Friday” that talks more about these journeys. Like how a sea turtle named “Fisher” swam across the Atlantic, or how seals in Antarctica move around in the icy cold waters and always find their way back to home. With telemetry tags, similar to the ones you saw in the exhibit, we now know that many fish make these trips as well– including Tuna travelling from Florida to Italy, and salmon swimming out into the ocean to return later to the streams where they were born. Occasionally, an animal may be sick and get lost, but in general their sense of direction are really impressive!
One area of exploration on this topic is “how do fish not get lost?”. There is some evidence that animals like turtles may not get lost because they can navigate using the Earth’s magnetic fields; but we still have long way to go and many more questions to explore!
Maite S. asks:
This question really caught my attention! As you see in the video above and from the exhibit, tags can help scientists gather amazing data about animals and our oceans–but what happens after the tag falls off or the animal dies? First, since finding a tag in the ocean might seem like finding a needle in a wet haystack, you might be surprised at the number of tags that are actually recovered! We deployed two tags on sharks last year and recovered both–one was found washed up in some rocks and the other drifted all the way back to Resurrection Bay where we recovered it from a boat. But what about the cases where we don’t recover the tag? When this happens, the tag–having fallen off an animal or emerged from a dead animal– is essentially lost to the ocean as a derelict object. Knowing this could happen, researchers are very careful when designing tags to make sure that when it is done being a ‘tag’, it effectively becomes like a rock of inert material and the batteries or metals won’t get exposed to the ocean.
While the tags do end up in the ocean, for some comparison the number of tags that are left in the ocean are relatively tiny compared to the amount of derelict fishing gear or single-use plastics that end up along beaches and in the ocean every-year.
We all can do our best to stop ocean pollution and marine debris–check out the Plastic Free July EcoChallenge and join the Alaska SeaLife Center’s team.
Tune in each month to find out more answers to your questions, and see if your card makes it onto the blog!!
Written by: Dr. Amy Bishop
2 thoughts on “Question and Answer”
I loved the Q&A, so I’ll ask a Q for you all.
What is the longest distance traveled for one of your tagged animals?
Also, what is the shortest distance traveled? I guess you would have to standardize the tag duration for it to be a fair comparison, so perhaps too daunting of a question (feel free to ignore the second question)…but I’ll ask it anyways 🙂
I can only speak for data I’ve worked with–which comes primarily from juvenile Steller sea lions. While most individuals stay relatively close to haulouts or within small regions of the coast (~350km distance traveled over 2-3 months), two of the animals in our study had relatively long-distance movements. One traveled a total of ~3,600km within a 4 month period, and another ~1,500km within 3 months.
This of course is nothing compared to the distances other pinnipeds like Elephant seals or Northern fur seals travel to forage. Check out this link to learn more: http://www.elephantseal.org/Research-friends/Adult-Female-Foraging.pdf
You’re right, I’d have to do some standardization to get at the shortest distance 🙂 but because pinnipeds molt yearly, we usually can only get a few months, up to 11 at best, of movement data from external tags. Some of the internal tags we use have a battery life of up to 10+ years–we just have to wait to get the data 🙂 Check out our blogs about LHX tags to learn more about those devices!