Lars-the-guru: FIELD DIARY
Successful deployment! Ginger Student was anaesthetised with cider and chocolate cookies, checked for parasites and then weighed. There has been a notable increase in mass since we first checked her 3 months ago, but she appears healthy enough. The capture was permitted under licences issued by the UN Student Chapter Office and under the Conservation of Ginger Students Act 1970. All procedures were undertaken in accordance with the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.
The tag was glued to the back of the head using a quick-setting epoxy resin and will come off the next time she gets a haircut.
The tags themselves are simply amazing – for something that fits into the palm of your hand, this instrument can do a heck of a lot. But, just like a mobile phone, it’s limited by how long the battery lasts. After initial activation, it remains idle so as not to waste power. Once it realises ‘something is happening’ via the pressure or wet/dry sensors, it then wakes up and starts collecting data. If the tag is on a seal rather than a student, when the animal surfaces to breathe, the instrument will make contact with the nearest ARGOS satellite and transmit what it has collected. The satellites will then beam that data to SMRU.
However, because satellite time isn’t cheap and because conserving battery is of the utmost importance (tags generally have to last for 8 months at a time), data is first compressed onboard the instruments. So, unfortunately, you lose resolution. If I’m monitoring Girl in Gumboots as she leaves the department and walks to a store to buy lunch, I’ll get the general track but I’ll possibly miss the point where she quickly crosses the road to say hello to someone, and then crosses back.
Just how important was that piece of information?
In science, data collection and interpretation is just about always based on “the best we can do with what we have at the time”. I hope to gain a little insight into Girl in Gumboots’ life this weekend, but the tag will only be able to tell me a fraction of the story. That’s what makes data analysis so exciting and, equally, so daunting.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see what we get!