Kristin Laidre : Studying the Narwhal
So our NOAA Ocean Exploration project is basically two parts, its focused on instrumenting narwhals with satellite transmitters while they are in their summering grounds in North Greenland. Satellite transmitters are small packages that we attach to the dorsal ridge of animals that allow us to track their movements and their behavior underwater for many months at a time. So the first part of the project was to sail up in a small boat to catch Narwhals in nets and put these instruments on them, the second part will be to go out to Baffin Bay which is the spot where these whales over-winter and instrument them and take oceanographic samples.
So catching a Narwhal is a bit of a strange job, there are two ways to do it. You can do it from a boat or from land. You tie a line from the bow of the boat and along a line at the surface - then we essentially watch that net for 24 hours a day and monitor it until some whales swim in. When the whales swim in we go out in inflatable boats, pull the animals up to the surface and then tag them. When we are working on a field site on land we essentially have the same operation however instead of attaching a line to the bow of the boat we attach it to a big rock or some type of anchor on land and set the net straight from shore.
So the instruments we put on Narwhals are called satellite link time-depth recorders. They work in the since that they collect information about what the animal does while it is swimming under that water. And when it comes to the surface they transmit that information to polar orbiting satellites. In addition when the animal's at the surface, the signal from the tag allows for the calculation of where that animal is in space - so a longitude and latitude. Which means for many months of the year we know exactly how that animal moves through its environment and what it is doing under the water. After we release the animal with these tags on it I go back to my office and I can monitor what that animal does on the Internet every single day, I can log into my account in Argos, I see where the animal is, how it has moved around when it was diving and what it was doing in the water column.