Researchers to implant 'BlackBerrys for fish' in Arctic

CanWest News Service
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A Canadian scientist will head to the Arctic this summer to hand out nearly 100 "BlackBerrys for fish" - part of a global research effort to track the movements of some of the oceans' creatures.
Aaron Fisk, an associate professor of trophic ecology at the University of Windsor - he studies the feeding relationships of animals - will lead a team as part of the $168-million project.
"I'm thrilled to be part of it," Fisk said Friday in his office at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research. "It's the biggest project of its kind for ocean movement in the world."
In the first few weeks of August, Fisk's nine-person team will surgically implant about 25 satellite tags and 70 electronic tags - worth $1,000 a pop - into Greenland sharks and Greenland halibut, and will sink about 70 acoustic receivers into waters around Cumberland Sound and Resolute in Nunavut.
Receivers pick up the pings from the tags, and send back data on movement, depth and water temperature.
The idea is to help manage fish populations and learn more about how climate change affects ocean life.
"With a lot of fish, especially in the Arctic, we have no idea what they do or where they go, because it has been so hard to work in that area," Fisk said. "The other thing is climate change is happening. We don't know a lot about what the animals are doing to begin with, and the system is rapidly changing."
The work is part of the global Ocean Tracking Network, led by Canada. Canada's portion, headed by Dalhousie University biology professor Sara Iverson, will include studies in the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.
Fisk, 42, likens the implants to cellphones, since they not only send out information but communicate with one another. If a tagged fish swims past another tagged fish, their units record the interaction and pass the information along to computers on land.
Some people have called the devices "BlackBerrys for fish."
"It will give us daily movement patterns," Fisk said.
"We think that these fish actually go up to water columns to feed and go back down every day. And that's really important, because that lets us understand what they're potentially feeding on, when the beluga whales eat them and where we can catch them, if we want to catch them. "The study will last seven years, though the tagged fish will outlive the project. Halibut can live to be 30 or 40, while some scientists estimate cold-water sharks can live to be hundreds of years old.
About 100 tags a year will be implanted in fish. As the project grows, with acoustic receivers placed in other watery parts of the world, scientists hope to learn about long-range fish travel.
Fisk received a $380,000 grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Organizations: University of Windsor, Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, Ocean Tracking Network Dalhousie University Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada

Geographic location: Arctic, Canada, Cumberland Sound Nunavut Pacific

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