Satellite tags have tracked a southern elephant seal nicknamed Jackson traveling for a whopping 18,000 miles (29,000 kilometers), the equivalent of going from New York to Sydney and back again.
The Wildlife Conservation Society tracked the male seal from December 2010 until last month after conservationists with the group fitted Jackson with a small satellite transmitter on the beach of Admiralty Sound in Tierra del Fuego in southern Chile. The transmitter sends a signal every time the animal surfaces to breathe.
Jackson then swam 1,000 miles (1,610 km) north, 400 miles (644 km) west, and 100 miles (160 km) south from the original tagging location, meandering through fjords and venturing past the continental shelf as he foraged for fish and squid.
WCS reports that Jackson has returned to Admiralty Sound, the site of the original tagging. Each year, elephant seals haul ashore in colonies to molt and find mates. The satellite transmitter is expected to work until early next year, when it will eventually fall off.
The tracking data will help scientists better understand elephant seal migratory routes, as these marine mammals are potential indicators of health of marine ecosystems and could show how climate change influences the distribution of prey species that serve as the basis of Patagonia’s rich marine ecosystem.
"Jackson's travels provide a roadmap of how elephant seals use the Patagonian Coast and its associated seas," said Caleb McClennen, director of Global Marine Programs for the WCS. "This information is vital to improving ocean management in the region, helping establish protected areas in the right places, and ensuring fisheries are managed sustainably without harming vulnerable marine species like the southern elephant seal."
WCS has tracked more than 60 southern elephant seals via satellite on the Atlantic side of the Southern Cone since the early 1990s. Jackson represented the first southern elephant seal tagged from the Pacific side of the Southern Cone. [ Images: Patagonian Expedition ]
Elephant seals are among the largest pinnipeds in the world, reaching weights of up to 7,500 pounds (3,400 kilograms) and lengths of 20 feet (6 meters).
The information WCS gathers will serve as a foundation for a new model of private-public, terrestrial-marine conservation of the Admiralty Sound, Karukinka Natural Park (a WCS private protected area), and Alberto de Agostini National Park, according to a WCS statement.
"Individual stories like Jackson's are awe-inspiring, and also inform the science that will ultimately help protect this region," said Julie Kunen, WCS's director of Latin America and Caribbean.