Vodafone is using seals to investigate how to improve the transmission of data from the sea to land, as part of a project tracking the decline of the species.
The operator's M2M technology is being used in partnership with Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) Instrumentation Group at the University of St Andrews.
Harbour seals are being equipped with marine smart tags, which connects to Vodafone's M2M platform and third party satellite services. The tag is no larger than a mobile phone and can withstand depths of up to 200 metres. It is attached to the seal's fur by using adhesive and is removed naturally by the animal's annual moult.
Vodafone said that by giving researchers access to its platform, they can collect data from tagged marine animals in more locations, including remote areas. The platform also removes any risk of data roaming charges.
Up to 100 tags will be used each year to help protect harbour seals. The species has seen its population fall by up to 90 percent in some regions during the past 10 years.
Vodafone said the tags will help provide impartial data to governments, industries and offshore energy companies to help them protect seal populations.
Work began on tagging seals around the Northern Isles of the UK this month, with the project to widen to western Scotland in the first quarter of 2016.
Vodafone said an additional benefit of the scheme was measuring how to more data transfer more efficient. Data from the seals is only sent when they briefly surface after diving. The operator will explore the best ways to send data in a short amount of time while protecting the battery life of sensors.
SMRU’s Deputy Director Dr Bernie McConnell said: “Through the combination of technology and science, SMRU and Vodafone can help businesses and governments accelerate economic growth and responsible environmental management. Marine data collected is fundamental in balancing the health of the sea with society’s need to harvest food and energy from it. ”
Vodafone UK’s Head of Corporate Responsibility Emer Boulter added: “Vodafone is providing its M2M technology and consultancy to help Bernie and the SMRU team to improve their data gathering and so help shape better informed policy decisions and better stewardship of the seas. We are delighted to partner with SMRU and hope that our technology and resources can go some way in continually improving environmental assessments in order to protect local sea mammal populations.”