Drop your Blackberry. Toss your iPhone. It's time for the latest in cellular technology: the Seal Phone.
Yesterday, we instrumented this 4-year-old female Hawaiian monk seal with a device that will track her movements in the water—how far off-shore she swims, how deep she dives, how often she dives, how many hours—and, possibly, days—she spends in the water. When O28, as she is known around here, makes it back to land, that contraption on her back (which will eventually fall off when she molts) will call a computer and download the data.
All this to learn a little more about the foraging habits of the critically-endangered and federally-protected Hawaiian Monk Seals living in the main Hawaiian Islands.
Right now, we know in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands these pinnipeds feed on sand flats on the bottom of the ocean up to a mile off-shore. They like to dive 300, 400 and 500-feet deep and flip over 40- to 80-pound rocks and snack on octopus, lobster and eel. They also use their fibrous whiskers to tease out flat fish hiding under a shallow layer of sand. They'll spend six minutes on the bottom and one minute on the surface and dive over and over and over again until they get their fill—sometimes for a day, sometimes for two days straight.
So, when these marine mammals finally haul out on the beach, they're tired. They need their rest. That's why volunteers in the main Hawaiian Islands will jump up and create a "seal protection zone" with ropes and signs and ask beachgoers to walk way around the sleeping seal.
Scientists suspect seals in the main Hawaiian Islands expend less energy foraging for their food than the same seal in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, a stretch of remote islands and atolls that make up a 1,000-mile stretch northwest of Kauai.
Of course, we won't know until O28 phones home.