xTablet T7200 Rugged Tablet Plays Key Role in Whale Research

MobileDemand customers use rugged tablets and cases in extreme environments. Sometimes we learn about ways the tablets are used that we didn’t expect. Marine Ecology and Telemetry Research (“MarEcoTel”) recently surprised us with how they have implemented our technology.

Whales of the Deep, an episode which is part of the National Geographic series Destination WILD, aired a few weeks ago. This episode highlights scientists who are studying marine mammals’ underwater activities.

If you watch Whales of the Deep you’ll learn some very interesting things. We think there’s one in particular that might catch the attention of our customers – a MobileDemand xTablet T7200 in the hands of Biologist Erin Falcone. Falcone and her partner, Biologist Greg Schorr, use the T7200 for data collection on a small open boat in the ocean. 

Erin Falcone with MobileDemnd T1200MobileDemand's broad range of products, including rugged tablets and cases, are built by rugged experts and are built to last. Introduced in 2012, the fully rugged, sunlight-viewable xT7200 is a perfect example.

Falcone and Schorr manage MarEcoTel, a non-profit organization whose mission is to support the conservation of marine species and populations. The organization is also developing tag technology to facilitate data gathering for these types of projects.

Beginning in the late 1990s scientists began documenting deep-water whale species stranding on beaches following nearby use of powerful military sonars. Understanding the mechanism behind these strandings drove Falcone and Schorr to begin a project in 2006, studying Cuvier’s beaked whales on a military training range. Today Falcone and Schorr use the xTablet T7200 to gather data as part of that project.  Falcone and Schorr are hoping that a better understanding how military sonar affects the beaked whales will help identify a solution to protect the whales.

The data MarEcoTel is gathering includes both longer migration patterns, day-to-day movements, and diving behavior of beaked whales. As part of the project, Falcone and Schorr are also taking pictures of the whales to build individual life histories, which will allow them to estimate things like reproductive rates and population size. One of the challenges of the study is how to gather enough data, as tracking these mammals is incredibly difficult. These beaked whales typically surface for just 90 seconds two or three times per hour and can remain submerged for more than two hours at a time. In fact, they hold the current mammalian dive record - an astonishing two hours and forty-three minutes. Falcone and Schorr collect the data by attaching a small satellite transmitter tag to a whale’s dorsal fin with surgical-grade titanium darts. The tag provides up to three months of data collection.

Photo by Erin Falcone, collected under NMFS Research Permit #16111

Photo by Erin Falcone, collected Under NMFS Research Permit #16111

Falcone and Schorr are working in cooperation with the US Navy; their work site is a military training range near an island off the coast of southern California. The Navy provides information to MarEcoTel on when and where sonar is used for training exercises. Falcone and Schorr stay on the island for one-to-two weeks at a time, spending daylight hours on a boat in the ocean collecting sighting data, photographing beaked whales they encounter, and tagging when circumstances permit.

Photographer: Jeff Foster

Photographer: Jeff Foster

 “While many of our data fields populate from the GPS or dropdown menus, we manually enter a variety of data related to our survey effort, weather conditions, and marine mammal sighting as numbers or numeric codes,” said Falcone. “For example, we estimate the minimum, maximum, and best guess at group size for each group of whales we encounter, and we describe the spatial distribution of animals at the surface as an x-y dimension. MobileDemand rugged tablets allow us to enter that data very quickly, accurately. The tablets are sunlight-viewable and withstand the environment on the ocean. They work really well for us, year after year, in small exposed boats.”

Photo by Gregory S. Schorr - www.MarEcoTel.org

Photographer: Gregory S. Schorr, www.MarEcoTel.org

MarEcoTel’s current grant will allow the project to continue for several more years. Falcone said when they started this project in 2006, she really didn’t expect to still be following Cuvier’s beaked whales 12 years later. “Our T7200 is well used. We also have a T7000 that is fully functional despite many years of heavy use.” MarEcoTel is currently testing an xTablet T1600.

Whales of the Deep airs again on the National Geographic Channel on June 30 and July 1 – check your local listings for times. If you are watching online, the story of MarEcoTel’s project begins almost 39 minutes into the episode

Our products are proven rugged and built to last. At MobileDemand we Demand More™ - so should you.

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