In the past, studies had been performed on diving mammals as they came up to the surface of the water to breathe air. Scientists would put smaller instruments on them that could measure only swimming speed, how long they had been submerged and the depth at which they been swimming.
For this project, each of the animals dove with a video camera attached to its head or back, plus a computer strapped to its back. This equipment allowed the scientists to study locomotor strategies during the deep dives, including frequency and amplitude of flipper strokes, glide sequences and swimming modes.
The scientists pointed the video camera either forward, to record head movement, or backward to record any tail or hind flipper movement. “It was a matter of watching the videos — seeing the animal dive without moving its tail. We’re watching the depth increase, but the animal is not swimming,” Fuiman said.
Fuiman is a behavioral ecologist who usually works with fishes, particularly larval fishes. Three years ago, he was recruited to work on a project in Antarctica on the behavior of seals, which has been funded by the National Science Foundation.
Note to Editors: For more information, contact Dr. Lee A. Fuiman at (361) 749-6775 or firstname.lastname@example.org and at www.utmsi.utexas.edu/staff/fuiman/diving. Photos are available by contacting Marsha Miller, Office of Public Affairs, at (512) 471-3151.