When researchers discovered that sea lions in parts of Alaska were dying off at unexpectedly high rates, they set out to find a cause. And since they couldn’t observe the animals constantly, they developed a device that could -- an electronic monitor that recorded vital information and uploaded it to satellites.
The result, explains one of the scientists, in a piece published on The Conversation, was what he called “autopsies from space.”
To the scientists’ surprise, readings from 15 of the 17 tags recovered so far indicated the sea lions likely died from a predator attack. Moreover, temperature data held a further surprise: “We think these tags were swallowed by a cold-bodied predator and passed or regurgitated a few days later,” wrote Associate Professor of Wildlife Ecology at Oregon State University Markus Horning. “This eliminates killer whales from the suspect list for these three attacks, since they are also warmblooded. Even white and salmon sharks have the ability to raise their body temperature well above ambient. This leaves the sluggish, slow-moving, poorly understood and truly cold-blooded Pacific sleeper shark as our prime suspect.”