Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
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NOAA GPSPelagic refers to the ecological realm that includes the entire ocean water column. The pelagic zone has the largest volume, and the greatest vertical range of all the inhabited environments on Earth (approximately 14 million cubic kilometers of available habitat).  Populating this expansive environment is a wide variety of large predators, such as sharks, seals, sea turtles, whales, dolphins and sea birds.  These predators travel vast distances in search of feeding areas and breeding grounds, although many of their migration routes and reasons are unknown.  Scientists are currently working with evolving satellite technology in order to follow these animals along their journeys, so that we may better understand their behaviors and life histories.

During this unit, students will use evolving satellite technology to follow open-ocean animals along their migration routes and examine the connections between physical and biological requirements and animal behaviors.

Activities | Back to top

Survival in the Open Ocean

This activity serves as an introduction to the open-ocean ecosystem, the animals that live there, why they are important and how they are studied by researchers.  Students will use brainstorming, discussion and small-group research to investigate pelagic predators and their environments.

Student Tracking

This activity helps students become familiar with satellite tracking procedures, relevant questions, data sources and organization.  Students will use various tracking techniques to find out where they go on a daily basis, what the environmental conditions are where they are traveling and what activities they are participating in during their “migrations.” Scientists who study organisms such as pelagic predators in the wild are unable to talk with their target organisms, and must find alternate means of obtaining information.  This activity will help students understand why satellite tracking is useful and how it works.

Satellite Tracking | Back to top

This activity provides an opportunity for students to use satellite tagging data to answer questions related to open-ocean animals, their habitats and migratory behaviors. Note: This project can be used instead of "Marine Animals of the Move" if collaboration with other classes can not be arranged.

Marine Animals on the Move | Back to top

Over the course of this project students will be expected to collaborate and share collected data with a partnered school to create a final product that interprets possible connections between organisms and their environment based on the use of real-time satellite tracking data. Note: This project can be used instead of "Satellite Tracking" if the opportunity for collaboration with other classes exists.

Satellite Tracking in the News | Back to top

World News: (Ongoing)
Satellite Tracking Animal Migration

Science Daily: (01/10/11)
Epic Journeys of Turtles Revealed Via Satellite Tracking

ACAP: (04/28/10)
Satellite-tracking Argentinean Southern Giant Petrels

Stanford University News: (11/03/09)
Tags reveal white sharks have neighborhoods in the North Pacific, Stanford researchers say

PLoS ONE: (10/09/09)
Long-Term GPS Tracking of Ocean Sunfish Mola mola Offers a New Direction in Fish Monitoring

Web Resources | Back to top

Satellite tagging and tracking:

Global Tagging of Pelagic Predators
The Global Tagging of Pelagic Predators (GTOPP) program is an international, multidisciplinary collaboration among biologists, engineers, computer scientists and educators, which will allow users to view and interact with animal tracking data, as well as oceanographic datasets, to marine life observation.

Tagging of Pacific Predators
This recently-updated site includes tracking information from a wide variety of pelagic predators, including sharks, whales, seals, sea turtles, squid and albatross, as well as corresponding graphs of oceanographic data.

World Wildlife Federation Polar Bear Tracker
For the last 4 years, the WWF-Canon Polar Bear Tracker has followed polar bears in the Arctic. Their positions are beamed from collars on the bears’ necks, via satellite to scientists, and then to this Web site, which has been developed with the help of the Norwegian Polar Institute. This allows scientists to get regular updates about how the polar bears behave in their arctic environment and how they may be affected by climate change. 

Tracking information includes both active and archived data and maps for a variety of seals and sea lions, porpoises, whales and sea turtles. Extensive background information on satellite tagging equipment, purposes and procedures.  Includes information on how to interpret satellite tag data and questions and activities to assist in exploring data.

Sea Turtle Migration-Tracking Education Program
Tracking information includes maps for both active and inactive tags from leatherback, loggerhead and green sea turtles.  Includes a plotting activity that uses data and maps from archived turtles, and a section with general information on satellite tracking.

Space for Species
This incredible space-trekking, species-tracking program monitors migratory animals, like the polar bear, eider, caribou, peregrine falcon, and leatherback seaturtle, as well as their habitats, from beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.

NOAA—National Marine Mammal Laboratory
The objective of the Alaska Ecosystem Program's Telemetry Research Page is to provide visitors with a tool to view the near-real-time movements of Steller sea lions with active instruments and to view location data from previous tracking efforts. Includes information on capture methods, instrumentation, data collecting and deployment.

NOAA—PFEL Live Access Server
Serves as a demonstration server for the Census of Marine Life (CoML) Tagging of Pacific Pelagics (TOPP) Project. Includes tag data from nine elephant seals, which are representative of the type of data that will be collected during TOPP. Descriptions of the data available from the PFEL LAS are provided as well.

Satellite oceanographic data:

NASA—SeaWiFS Project
Access to SeaWiFS satellite imagery of sea surface color.  High-resolution images can be used to examine chlorophyll concentration and therefore phytoplankton levels. Includes extensive background and educational resources.

NASA Earth Observatory
Centralized access to a wide variety of images and data sets, including chlorophyll, sea surface height and temperature, rainfall and reflected solar radiation.

NOAA—Satellite Active Archive
Provides tools to access a variety of satellite data, including AVHRR sea surface temperature.  Time/location search returns either graph or data set.

NOAA—National Geophysical Data Center
Access to color relief images of seafloor bathymetry.

Additional Satellite Resources

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Last updated: Mar. 14, 2011