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Friday, 12 February, 1999, 14:26 GMT
Seals shoot underwater video
One of the seals shows off her catch - the camera on her head caught the action
The camera on the seal's head catches the action
Light has been shed on how seals hunt in deep murky waters by four Antarctic Weddell seals that carried cameras on their dives.

The spectacular footage reveals previously unknown tricks, such as blowing a stream of air bubbles into ice crevices to flush out fish.

Randall Davis, from Texas A&M University, says in the journal Science: "Virtually nothing was known about how Weddell seals find their prey, where they find it and how they stalk and capture it."

The seal blows air up under the ice
The seal blows air up under the ice
The only way to find out was to "follow" the seals under the ice. Davis's team did this by fitting $30,000 miniature cameras to the seals' backs.

More than 50 hours of film was recovered and showed that the seals often approach fish from below, so they stand out in silhouette against the overlying ice. It also showed the seals sneaking up to within a few centimetres of cod without frightening them off.

The evidence of the tapes suggests that seals do not rely on sonar to find their prey, as they made relatively little noise.

A data recorder was also fitted and logged time, depth, swimming speed and compass bearing every second. The seals start their dives by shooting down to depths of up to 73 metres at speeds of up to two metres per second. They then ascend and dive looking for prey.

The fish darts out away from the air bubbles
The fish darts out away from the air bubbles
The video camera uses near infra-red light-emitting diodes for light. Seals and fish cannot see this light, so their behaviour should be unaffected. The camera takes 30 frames every second and one tape captures six hours of underwater action.

The cameras are glued to the seals' fur and would drop off when they moulted, but are removed after about four days. The seals are sedated while this happens.

Dr Davis said: "These observations highlight the broad range of insights that are possible with simultaneous recordings of video, audio, dive paths and effort."

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 ON THIS STORY
Watch the sealcam
The video camera catches the seal flushing out a fish
See also:

01 Nov 98 | Sci/Tech
Ships' paint 'killing' marine life
24 Jan 99 | Sci/Tech
Protecting Antarctica's future
27 Jan 99 | Sci/Tech
Ice cool in Antarctica
11 Feb 99 | Sci/Tech
Hartlepool gets seal of approval
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