Newborn seals join in the txt msg revolution

Newborn seal pups are being fitted with the latest mobile phone technology so they can "text" their progress back to the scientists monitoring them.

Newborn seal pups are being fitted with the latest mobile phone technology so they can "text" their progress back to the scientists monitoring them.

With a deadly disease threatening to wipe out more than half of Britain's seal population, the new study has taken on grave importance. So far 2,000 seals in England and 130 in Scotland have died from phocine distemper virus since an outbreak of the disease spread to the United Kingdom in August. There is no known cure or vaccine.

Scientists from the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St Andrews are fitting hundreds of newborn seals with a microchip to collect information. Using mobile phone technology, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, the seals will transmit details of their movements, eating patterns and interaction with the environment, which will help devise new approaches towards marine conservation.

The tiny "phone tags" are glued to the seal's fur and will fall off when the mammal moults, by which time scientists hope to have discovered what happens to baby seals during their first few months of independence.

About 38,000 grey seals are born on land breeding colonies in the UK each November, and after being suckled by their mothers for about 18 days they are left to fend for themselves. The next couple of months are crucial for their survival as they explore the seas, and learn how to navigate and find food.Less than half make it to their first birthday.

But scientists hope that by fitting the tags to seals born on the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth they will receive regular messages from the pups.

Bernie McConnell, the project's senior research scientist, said: "Over the last 10 years we have developed satellite telemetry techniques to track marine mammals at sea, on species from the Arctic to the Antarctic, which has led to amazing insights into how they live and behave at sea."

The project is being carried out under the gaze of the public, as live broadcasts of the seals are transmitted to the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick using cameras similar to those used on Channel 4's Big Brother. Visitors to the centre, 14km away, are able to see how the pups cope with life on the beach.

Lynda Dalgleish, from the seabird centre, said: "In light of the recent phocine distemper virus seal deaths in the south of England we're lucky in Scotland to be seeing healthy newborn seals."

The virus is transferred by coughing and affects the immune system of the seal, leaving it susceptible to other infections such as pneumonia. Symptoms include respiratory problems, coughing, nasal discharge, a reluctance to move, subcutaneous emphysema (air under the skin) and possibly problems of the nervous system. The seals then become unable to dive to feed.

In 1988, the virus killed 18,000 seals throughout Europe, including 60 per cent of Britain's harbour seal population and one-third of common seals.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk