University of St Andrews
 
 

School of Biology News Centre

item 213
[14-09-2009 to 14-10-2009]


News Item:
Seals like it hot


Using innovative thermal imaging techniques and CCTV recording, a St Andrews academic has shed new light on previously unseen aspects of the life of seals.

Harbour seals, like most mammals, re-grow some or all of their hair each year. In a unique study, William Paterson of the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) at the University of St Andrews followed two adult female seals from late pregnancy through pupping and then to the end of the moult period.

He used thermal imaging technology to further study the energy this costs the animals, and the impact of the often undetected annual moulting process.

Presenting his results at the British Ecological Society's Annual Meeting at the University of Hertfordshire this week, Paterson reveals a stunning series of thermal images of harbour seals that show graphically for the first time the significant amount of energy these animals expend during their annual moult from August through September.

A joint team from the Sea Mammal Research Unit, University of Glasgow and Edinburgh Napier University used the technology for the first time to measure the body surface temperature of two adult harbour seals as they hauled out of the water onto land.

The images show that their skin heats up to aid the shedding and re-growth of hair, and CCTV footage of the seals shows that they spend more time out of the water during moulting to avoid losing too much heat.

Paterson explains, "Our thermal images show that when moulting, their skin surface gets very hot as they must circulate blood close to the skin surface to allow hair to grow quickly.  As a result, they expend a lot of energy during the moult and need to remain ashore for long periods to avoid becoming chilled in the cold water."

"Most mammals, including humans re-grow some or all of their hair each year. We may be familiar with dogs and cats shedding their hair each summer or horses growing a thick coat for the winter. For marine mammals such as seals this annual moult often goes undetected, but it is equally important for maintaining their health and condition while at sea. Growing new hair doesn't come for free as the energy cost of moult for some species of seals is up to half of the energy required to rear a pup."

Paterson's results give insights into the energy requirements of this species, some of whose UK populations have declined by up 50% since 2000, and Paterson hopes that his study could also have positive implications for seal population monitoring.

"Currently, harbour seals are counted by SMRU in aerial surveys during the period of moult. Our study confirms that using thermal imaging to count seals at moult is the most effective way of detecting seals at this time," Paterson continued.

"The work also highlights the importance of the moult period for harbour seals to maintain healthy skin conditions and for body insulation while on land. Emphasis is given to try and not disturb harbour seals during the pupping period as mothers suckle their young, and the same treatment should also be afforded to these animals during the moult period. Disturbances would increase the seals' energy expenditureand prolong the duration of the moult. The implications would be that there would be less time available for foraging as the animals head into winter and they may have less fat reserves as a result."

Paterson's study is a joint project between the Universities of St Andrews, Glasgow and Edinburgh Napier and was funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

BBC Scotland: Seals 'heat up' to help grow hair.

see here for further details
contact: Mr William Paterson


 

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    Telemetry (the remote collection of data via communications systems) allows us to study animals that we would otherwise be unable to observe, in environments we don't have easy access to. The collection of such data is racing ahead of the analytical techniques we have available to understand the data and the systems under study. The type of information we can or should collect both determines, and is determined by, the questions we are able to address regarding the ecology, life-history and behaviour of animals. Challenging systems are often the most interesting, and sometimes the most important to study, but they present us with special practical and analytical challenges. Even though we now have the capacity to collect data in more detail and greater quantities than ever before, we often still have to make do with whatever we can get, or conversely, end up with data in large volumes or with more complexity than we know how to analyse. I will present examples of the data types and study systems I work with, including seals and black eagles, the importance of knowing how data are collected, and some of the methods I use to try to get the most out of these data.


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    Genetic diversity in a species is key to its success in a changing environment, and a key determinant of genetic diversity is the ancestral history of the population.  Classically such ancestral structure was considered in terms of population demography and pedigree-based relationships.  Analyses were often constrained by the assumed pedigree structures, and by the assumption that individuals not specified as related have independent genetic data.  In reality, extended multi-generation pedigrees cannot be validated from genetic data on extant individuals, and any given pedigree can give rise to a wide variation of genetic descent patterns.
     
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    THIRD INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL 'OMICS SYNTHESIS CONFERENCE

    The IEOS Conference Organising Committee
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    The aim of this conference is to bring together researchers and organisations from a range of disciplines with shared interests in the development of new approaches for data handling, generation and analysis in environmental omics. It is our hope is that the resulting interaction and exchange of ideas will lead to novel approaches, new collaborations and the consolidation of a wider integrated environmental ‘omics community.

    <p>ABSTRACT (TALK) and REGISTRATION DEADLINE: 6 June 2015 Science areas include bioinformatics, DNA-barcoding, genomics, metagenomics, metabarcoding, transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics, epigenetics, evolutionary and ecological omics, phylogenetics, study of ancient DNA and anthropology, new tools, resources and training--as applied to the study of the natural environment and environmentally relevant organisms and systems. We hope the resulting interactions and exchange of ideas will lead to novel approaches, new collaborations and the consolidation of a wider integrated environmental &lsquo;omics community. Keynote speakers are Professor Elizabeth Thompson from the University of Washington, Professor Mark Blaxter from the University of Edinburgh, and Professor Barbara Meth&eacute;, J Craig Ventor Institute. Invited speakers include Dr Logan Kistler from the University of Warwick, Dr Umer Zeeshan Ijaz from the University of Glasgow, and Dr Nathan Bailey from the University of St Andrews.</p>

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