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Pollutants, Tagging and the Open Ocean

What do you like best about your profession?
Thys: “I have a very varied profession and I absolutely love the diversity of what I research for science filmmaking...”

See Tierney Thys' full Q&A »

As invisible pollutants infiltrate our water, much of that water ends up flowing straight into our coastal zones. According to one school of thought, pollutants are diluted to safe levels by the time they reach the open ocean. But are the creatures that live here really protected from chemicals? In the past decades, researchers have become aware that some sharks, bluefin tuna, swordfish and killer whales can store large amounts of pollutants in their tissues. In an effort to help reduce pollution exposure, researchers with the Census of Marine Life and one of its subprojects, the Tagging of Pacific Pelagics Project, are trying to discover where open-ocean animals spend their time.

The largest oceanographic project in history, the Census of Marine Life, is a growing global network of hundreds of researchers in more than 70 nations engaged in a ten-year initiative to assess and explain the diversity, distribution and abundance of marine life in the oceans past, present and future.

One member of this effort is Tierney Thys who is using new high-tech tracking devices to chart the travel habits of the animals, once widely believed to live primarily in the open ocean. Surprisingly, the tags reveal that these animals spend a lot of time close to shore, in close proximity to where pollutant-filled runoff enters open water. The good news is that we are now locating the particular places where open-ocean species approach our shores to feed and from that information, we know where to concentrate our clean-up efforts.

Related Links
» Visit Tierney Thys's ocean sunfish website. Off-site Link
» For more information on the Tagging of Pacific Pelagics (TOPP) project, visit the TOPP site. Off-site Link

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