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Vodafone smartphone tech is being given to harbor seals in Orkney, Scotland

Smartphones may be close to saturating the human market, but when it comes to seals, that’s a whole new growth area. And now, harbor seals in Orkney, Scotland will be receiving smartphone technology in an effort to stymie their population decline. It’s all part of a three-year study conducted by the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) over at the University of St. Andrews, in which marine biologists will be tagging a number of seals with telemetry devices (which will be harmlessly attached to the fur at the backs of their heads). The tags are equipped with Vodafone’s new machine-to-machine technology and will work much in the same way our smartphones do, sending crucial information from each seal back to SMRU scientists.

The harbor seals are one of two species in the U.K., and they have experienced a sharp population drop in the last 16 years. Since 2000, their numbers have declined by up to 90 percent, causing great concern to biologists. But this study, complete with its Vodafone smartphone technology, could prove enormously beneficial to the seals (and science at large).

“This exciting, collaborative study is vital to help us to better understand the drivers of population change in Scottish harbor seals, and to evaluate the potential conservation and management options open to us,” said Professor John Baxter, marine principal adviser at Scottish Natural Heritage.

SMRU’s deputy director Dr. Bernie McConnell echoed these sentiments, telling the BBC, “Over the last 15 years, many of the harbor seal populations in the Northern Isles and on the north and east coasts of Scotland have been declining. Marine data collected during this project on Orkney will help to assess the causes, management, and mitigation options in relation to the harbor seals decline and to prioritize future research directions.”

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The lightweight tags are designed to drop off when the seals begin molting, but during their tenure on the seals’ bodies, they will be able to submit information regarding the animals’ location, dive behavior, and environment.

Thrilled by the use of their technology in a rather novel application, Vodafone U.K.’s Corporate and External Affairs Director Helen Lamprell said, “The first mobile call was made on our network more than thirty years ago. We will now be the first company to help transmit valuable information from seals. This project is proof that collaborations between government, science, and the private sector can work to improve better informed policy decisions on the environment. We are delighted to be able to provide Bernie and his team with access to our technology and consultancy.”