Sea Animals Are Doing Climate Change Research

Elephant seals, narwhals, and leopard seals are helping with research that could save their habitat.

1. Scientists wanted to study a type of very cold water deep in the Atlantic ocean.

Handout / Reuters

The “Atlantic bottom water” helps control the movement of all the world’s oceans.

2. But it’s so deep and remote that it’s inaccessible by ship.

Handout / Reuters

I think you can see where this is going, and where it’s going is awesome.

3. Solution: elephant seals!

Handout / Reuters

“The seals went to an area of the coastline that no ship was ever going to get to,” said sea ice specialist Guy Williams. They are intrepid explorers: “Several of the seals foraged on the continental slope as far down as 1,800 meters (1.1 miles), punching through into a layer of this dense water cascading down the abyss,” said Williams. “They gave us very rare and valuable wintertime measurements of this process.”

4. Their research could help with climate change modeling.

Handout / Reuters

Learning more about trends in Antarctic bottom water could help scientists predict how climate change will affect the oceans.

5. The seal researchers are also adorable.

Handout / Reuters

A little ice on the sensor and the whiskers does not bother this stylish sea mammal.

6. Elephant seals aren’t the only ones involved in research. Narwhals have carried sensors too.

Kristin Laidre, NOAA, files / AP

They helped scientists learn that the water beneath the ice of Baffin Bay, in the North Atlantic, was warming.

7. So have leopard seals.

They’ve measured water temperature in Antarctica. Climate change threatens the habitats of many marine mammals, but the data they gather could help to save them.

The harp seal has yet to participate.

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