Elephant seals wearing head sensors and swimming deep beneath Antarctic ice have helped scientists better understand how the ocean’s coldest, deepest waters are formed.
The seals also provide information about the Antarctic’s role in the world’s climate that researchers had no other way of learning.
“The seals went to an area of the coastline that no ship was ever going to get to,” said Guy Williams, one of the Australian scientists on the project.
Southern Ocean elephant seals are the largest of all seals, with males growing up to 20 feet long and weighing up to 8,800 pounds.
Twenty of the seals had the small sensors, which send information back to researchers, attached to their heads.
Other studies have shown changes in the Antarctic ice, but never with as much detail as the seals have been able to provide.
Several of the seals dived as far down as 1.1 miles, Williams said. “They gave us very rare and valuable wintertime measurements of this process.”