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Researchers Say They've Learned Deep Sea Diving Secrets of Various Seagoing Mammals

Aired April 6, 2000 - 2:43 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Researchers say they've learned the deep sea diving secrets of dolphins, whales and seals. They did it by taking a video piggyback ride with the seagoing mammals.

CNN's Don Knapp is about to give us a look at what they discovered.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DON KNAPP, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A weddel seal hunts for fish beneath Antarctic ice. A tiny camera mounted on the seal's head captures the kill. By attaching video cameras and a package of other instruments to marine mammals, scientists are learning how the mammals dive to great ocean depths, chase prey and avoid predators for extended periods, on just a breath of air.

TERRIE WILLIAMS, UNIV. OF CALIF., SANTA CRUZ: The trick is in lung compression. So, as hydrostatic pressure increases at depth, lungs compress, animals become negatively buoyant; they can fall like a rock.

KNAPP: Marine biologist Terrie Williams' research appears in the April 7 issue of the journal "Science." She studied this "National Geographic" video of a 100-ton blue whale's deep ocean plunge. The video didn't reveal much at first.

WILLIAMS: Well, blue whale, this massive animal, maybe it's operating in a different time frame. So we sped up the VCR film, and in speeding it up, it as all there. It's just that we couldn't see it at normal speed.

KNAPP (on camera): What did you see?

WILLIAMS: What we saw were the actual movements of the body that indicated when the animal was swimming and when he was gliding.

KNAPP (voice-over): A backward-looking camera, carried by this bottlenosed dolphin, records its powerful kick on the initial part of its dive.

(on camera): One of the toughest parts of the project was simply to get the instruments to stick to the back of a dolphin. To do that, they had to develop a special dorsal pack. WILLIAMS: Dolphin skin replaces itself so quickly, nothing will stick to it. What we've all learned is some variation on suction cups. So small suction cups for dolphins, really big suction cups for blue whales.

KNAPP (voice-over): Dolphins and other mammals may not be able to tell humans what their lives are like beneath the sea, but by giving them cameras, scientists are beginning to get the picture.

Don Knapp, CNN, Santa Cruz, California.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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