Tagged Fish Are Easier for Seals to Find (and eat…)

Written by on December 3, 2014 in Marine Life, Seals, Sea Lions & Sea Otters

New research reveals that seals may be taking advantage of the tags researchers use to study fish at sea.

Gray seal. Photo credit: Meghann Murray, NEFSC/NOAA.

Gray seal. Photo credit: Meghann Murray, NEFSC/NOAA.

Marine mammals are sensitive to sound, and several studies have shown that man made noises can be dangerous to these animals (check out the related articles below to learn more). But, some marine mammals may actually benefit from these sounds.

Researchers at the University of St. Andrews found that gray seals can track the pinging sounds made by some tags and use them to find their next meal.

To determine if the seals really were tracking the fish by their tags, the researchers set up a maze of boxes, all of which were empty except for two — one had just a fish, and another had a fish with a tag.

“The seals found the tagged fish sooner and with less searching than the fish without a tag. This means that the seals learned to use the sound from the pinging tags to find where their food was hidden,” University of St Andrews researcher Amanda Stansbury explained in a news release. “This tells us that seals can exploit new sounds, such as fish tags, and use them to their advantage.”

Stansbury notes that these findings suggest researchers ought to be careful when using acoustic tags because seals likely aren’t the only marine mammals that are capable of using this information to track prey.

“Tagged fish may be more detectable by predators, which could affect the results of fish studies. When we make noise in the sea, we need to consider how animals are affected,” she continued. “Our results show that such effects can be complicated. In our case they were beneficial to the seal but bad for the fish.”

To learn more, read the full news release: Fish Tags Create Dinner Bell Effect.

Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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