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Research into seal population decline takes centre stage at World Mobile Congress

Monday 27 February 2017

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The internationally renowned University of St Andrews Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) is taking centre stage at the world’s largest gathering of the mobile industry in Barcelona this week (w/c 27 February).

More than 100,000 attendees and 2200 companies from 200 countries are expected at the Mobile World Congress 2017.

This year delegates entering the Fira Gran Via conference centre will be greeted by a display featuring SMRU’s smart telemetry tags used to track and monitor the movement of Harbour seals and research their population decline.

The natural habitat of animals around the world is being impacted by climate change that is disrupting food chains and biodiversity. SMRU was approached by the Scottish Government to investigate why seals on the east coast of Scotland and the Northern Isles were in serious decline with a 70% reduction over the last ten years.

The research is ongoing but the possible reasons for the decline could be food limitation, disease, aggression from grey seals, predation by killer whales, and poisoning from harmful algal blooms. A crucial element will be in discovering where the threatened seals feed at sea.

In 2016, SMRU successfully gathered information for analysis from Harbour seals in Orkney, Scotland.

New sensors, to be trialled later this year, are being developed by SMRU which will be harmlessly attached to the seals in order to log detailed data on the animals’ behaviour, such as location and dive depth, as well as temperature, salinity and, eventually, underwater sound. Low power devices and networks in a licensed spectrum vastly improve wildlife tracking by allowing tracking tags to be more efficient and thus smaller and less intrusive.

smru-conference-mainbody-2Professor Ailsa Hall, director of the Sea Mammal Research Unit, said: “The support provided by the mobile communications industry is crucial in our efforts to understand the cause of the Harbour seal decline.”

Dr Bernie McConnell (pictured), head of SMRU’s Instrumentation Group, said: “We are developing our latest generation of ‘smart phone’ tags for seals. We are now examining how the emerging Internet of Things can be exploited for marine research. These are exciting times!”


Photo captions
Top and news page: SMRU's stand at the Mobile World Congress 2017
Bottom: Dr Bernie McConnell presents at the summit

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Visit the World Mobile Congress and SMRU websites for more information.

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office, contactable on 01334 467310/2530 or proffice@st-andrews.ac.uk.