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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 October 2006, 17:22 GMT
'Shy' animal tracker device award
Rory Wilson attatches one of the rackers to a penguin
The professor has studied how penguins hunt fish
A Swansea University professor has won a 50,000 award for a tracking device set to shed light on the behaviour of some of the planet's shyest animals.

Rory Wilson developed the "Daily Diary" to assist his research into penguins.

He said the birds were difficult to observe but the miniaturised device allowed him to follow their every movement and how much energy they used.

It can be used for all sorts of animals from birds to wolves or tigers and has him won a Rolex Enterprise Award.

"It started out from my frustration of having to study penguins at sea and not being able to follow them," he explained.

It's about the size of a matchbox and we call it the ''Daily Diary' because it records very faithfully like a diary
Prof Rory Wilson

"You can sit on a boat or you can dive but penguins don't like to be followed and don't like to be watched.

"The only way to deal with that problem is to put something on them that records them.

"I started a number of years ago with very simple technology which has now become increasingly complicated. The system we have now allows us to track them every step of the way."

Matchbox

Professor Wilson, a zoologist, likens the device to a black-box flight recorder and says it takes a whole new approach to observing animals.

It is able to function where satellite-based systems often cannot such as dense forest, underground or in the ocean.

"I have been using it primarily for penguins but we are opening up the door on a whole variety of animals - not just marine animals but eagles, wolves, bears, tigers and what have you. The same system can apply.

"It's about the size of a matchbox and we call it the daily diary because it records very faithfully like a diary.

"It records exactly what the animals does. The direction it travels in - it records every single step and every single type of behaviour via changes in movement.

'Confused fish'

"When we recover the device we can put it through a computer programme which can tell us where the animlas has been, what it has been doing there and even the energy it has expended."

He said one of the things he discovered observing Magellanic penguins was how they herd fish when hunting them.

"Not all species of penguins each fish but those that do feed on schooling fish. One of the things that they do is they do actually herd fish to catch to them," he added.

"What the penguins do - singularly and in groups - is they find a ball of fish and swim around it at high speed.

"If you are a fish on the outside of the school you don't want to come out because you swim into a penguins beak so they all swim in and all end up in the middle they are a milling mass of very confused fish because they have got too close to each other.

"The penguin rushes through the middle and grabs a fish and then carries on herding."


SEE ALSO
Penguins face starvation threat
14 Dec 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Elusive penguin found at last
05 Apr 04 |  Africa
Penguin-cam snaps amazing images
24 Mar 04 |  Science/Nature

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