Current Biology, Russell et al.
A harbor seal tagged with a GPS phone tag as part of a study of offshore wind farms and seal hunting grounds.
The month of June honors both National Ocean Month and World Ocean Day (June 8). What better time, then, to check out photos of undersea life and be reminded that things "down there" are just as important as things up here on land. Here, a manatee goes about its day. The manatee, also known as a "seacow," is an air-breathing herbivore listed as a federally endangered species. Manatees are slow moving and can't swim quickly away from boats. This often results in collisions that can kill or injure them.Whales Counted With Space Satellites
Life's a beach. Mom and her baby elephant seal roll around in the sand in Ano Nuevo Island, Calif.Elephant Seal Calls Tell Rivals Who's Boss
Robert Schwemmer, NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries
A humpback whale breaches in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, off the coast of California.Distinct Humpback Whale Populations Found in North Pacific
A blue rockfish fans for the camera in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, in California.200-Year-Old Fish Caught Off Alaska
A Southern sea otter, aka,
Enhydra lutris nereis
, wonders what all the fuss is about, at South Harbor, Moss Landing, Calif. The World Ocean Day Photo Contest entrant was Submitted by Dr. Steve Lonhart.PHOTOS: Otter vs. Gator: Otter Wins
A white-lobed sponge brightens up the scenery. It's one of several images of rarely seen deep-sea animals that were captured on camera in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary during a NOAA expedition. Researchers used a NOAA remotely operated vehicle in waters 328 to 656 feet deep off the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. The research was funded by NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program.Strange, Carnivorous Sponge Found In Deep Sea
This image brimming with colorful marine life is from the Pearl and Hermes Atoll. It's a huge oval coral reef within several internal reefs and is the second largest among the six atolls in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.PHOTOS: Sharks, Marine Mammals Hang in Paradise
Having no backbone isn't always a bad thing! Just ask any octopus. These boneless invertebrates know how to squeeze into (and out of) many a tight spot. They have three hearts, nine brains and blue blood. (Two hearts send blood to the gills, while the third pumper sends it to the rest of the body.)VIDEO: Octopi Have a Brain in Every Tentacle
Rapture Reef sits within the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument. The monument encompasses more than 140,000 square miles of ocean and coral reef habitat.PHOTOS: Life in Australia's Great Barrier Reef
This seal is eager to wriggle its way back to freedom, as divers release it from fishing nets. Marine debris -- such as these nets -- makes a serious impact on its surroundings. From being an eyesore on a beach to injuring marine life or stopping a 400-ton vessel at sea, it causes problems that are difficult to ignore.Seal Pup Found in Forest
Offshore wind farms may become seal hunting grounds, new research shows.
As the number of offshore wind farms continues to grow, the farms may affect both seals and their prey, the finding suggests. However, it remains uncertain whether the effects will be helpful or harmful, scientists added.
Wind farms are banks of wind turbines that harness the wind's energy to produce electricity. Those located offshore can take advantage of mighty coastal winds to generate substantial amounts of power in a renewable manner. For instance, Denmark currently gets about 30 percent of its electricity from wind power.
To learn more about the potential environmental impacts of these wind turbines, scientists tagged harbor seals and gray seals on the British and Dutch coasts in the North Sea. Each tag was glued onto the fur on the back of a seal's neck, and carried a GPS tracking device to monitor that seal's every movement.
Intriguingly, upon analyzing the GPS data, the researchers found three harbor seals moved "in a very striking grid pattern," said lead study author Deborah Russell, a marine ecologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. [Image Gallery: Seals of the World]
The scientists found these three seals were part of a group of 11 seals that swam within two active offshore wind farms — Alpha Ventus off the coast of Germany, and Sheringham Shoal off the east coast of England. The grid patterns of the seals' movements showed how the animals swam in straight lines between wind turbines.
"We could actually pinpoint where the wind turbines were by looking at the paths the seals traveled," Russell told Live Science.
The scientists also saw both gray and harbor seals visiting offshore oil and gas pipelines. Researchers observed two harbor seals in the Netherlands following sections of pipeline on multiple trips lasting up to 10 days each.
The researchers suggest these man-made structures may act like artificial reefs that shelter potential prey, making the areas attractive hunting grounds for the seals. "This is the first time marine mammals have shown use of these artificial structures for foraging," Russell said.
It remains uncertain what the environmental consequences of offshore wind farms will be for seals and their prey. If these farms increase the total amount of prey available for seals, "then the effects may be positive overall," Russell said. "However, if they are simply concentrating existing prey and making them vulnerable to predation to animals such as seals, that could deplete the populations of those prey."
In the future, the scientists would like to tag more seals to find out what percentage of the animals forage at offshore wind farms and pipelines, to show how much these artificial structures affect the seals' environment.
The scientists detailed their findings online July 21 in the journal Current Biology.
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