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A key challenge in the study of large mobile marine species is simply documenting behavior. The aquatic environment often limits direct observation to brief glimpses of a dorsal fin or back as it breaks the surface, or in the case of pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, etc.) to periods when the animal is hauled out on land or ice. Difficulties increase when dealing with pelagic species that spend most of their time far from shore and thus out of easy reach. Polar species present even greater challenges: sea ice, cold and the polar night to name a few.
We are using satellite-linked telemetry to chart the movement behavior and dive patterns of marine mammals. By attaching sensors and data recorders with transmitters to the backs of cetaceans and pinnpieds that can relay detailed information to polar orbiting satellites, we can investigate movement patterns, foraging behavior, and habitat use of marine apex predators in near real-time. Our attention is currently focused on catching and tagging beluga whales at a number of locations across the Arctic.