Nova Scotia

Feds give $11M to Dalhousie ocean project that employs seals as researchers

Ottawa has announced five years' worth of funding for a Halifax-based aquatic research network that includes gathering information from the depths of the ocean using wired seals. Andy Fillmore, the Liberal MP for Halifax, announced $11.4 million for Dalhousie University's Ocean Tracking Network at an event Monday.

Outfitted with receivers and Bluetooth devices, seals gather and transmit the ocean's secrets

Headquartered at Dalhousie University in Halifax, the Ocean Tracking Network studies the movement and habitat of aquatic species. (Jarrett Corke/Dalhousie University)

Ottawa has announced five years' worth of funding for a Halifax-based aquatic research network that includes gathering information from the depths of the ocean using wired seals.

Andy Fillmore, the Liberal MP for Halifax, announced $11.4 million for Dalhousie University's Ocean Tracking Network at an event Monday.

The money, from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, is part of $328 million in federal funding being doled out to major research projects and scientific endeavours across the country.

"OTN research generates incredibly important information about climate change, the impact of offshore development," said Fillmore. 

"This knowledge is used to guide the management of responsible fisheries policies and understand the sustainability of the world oceans."

The Ocean Tracking Network builds and deploys Canadian-designed acoustic receivers and oceanographic monitoring equipment around the world.

Its sensors track the movement of more than 100 at-risk and commercially important species.

Putting grey seals to work

This seal is outfitted with a mini receiver and a Bluetooth device that will allow the mammal to gather and transmit data from the ocean. (Jarrett Corke/Dalhousie University)

Sara Iverson, the network's science director, said technology has advanced to the point where researchers are now putting the grey seal herd on Sable Island to work.

Scientists have attached mini receivers and Bluetooth links to the large mammals that transmit data gathered underwater to satellite when the seals surface.

"It's a lot less expensive putting it on the animal because they are going to be running around the ocean anyway," said Iverson.

"They can go to depths of the oceans in times of the year where it's too dangerous or costly to use expensive ship time."

Exploring the ocean

The sensors provide basic data on ocean conditions throughout the water column and also record when an animal with a tag swims by a seal carrying a receiver.

Scientists have found that grey seals and bluefin tuna are targeting the same foraging hotspots for the same prey.

They may not know it, but this seal is an integral part of the Ocean Tracking Network's research. (Jarrett Corke/Dalhousie University)

Masters student Benia Nowak recently returned from Sable Island, where she started recovering tags from the grey seal herd.

"I think it's really important," she said. "I think we don't know enough about the biology of the ocean, about how these species are moving.

"The more we know about them, the better we can manage the species and oceans overall."


Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.