August 2017 – Off the Bench

August 2017 – Off the Bench
Marine Mammal Research Unit

Off the Bench

Nattan Telmer shows some of the equipment he used to test the ability of sea lions to generate power from their body heat.

Steller sea lions as power generators

High school student finds heat given off by Steller sea lions can be used to recharge data loggers

Consortium scientists have always believed in the value of outreach. Each year, scientists and staff give lectures to community groups and schools, and accommodate tours of the research areas at the Vancouver Aquarium and the Open Water Research Station. It is all part of the mission to raise awareness of the importance of the marine environment, and the role that science can play in safeguarding its future. Sometimes this outreach pays off in surprisingly direct ways.

Grade 9 student Nattan Telmer contacted Dr. David Rosen for input on a study he wanted to undertake for the 56th Vancouver Island Regional Science Fair. Nattan had an idea that could revolutionize the tracking of marine mammals at sea by extending the battery life of biologging tags.

Nattan Telmer places a base plate on the back of a Steller sea lion at the Vancouver Aquarium while David Rosen pours water over it.

Nattan proposed charging data tags attached to seals and sea lions by incorporating a baseplate that generates electricity from the temperature difference between the warm skin of the animal and the cold ocean water.

While the idea seemed sound from an engineering perspective, Nattan needed to try it on a living sea lion.

Nattan came to the UBC Marine Mammal Energetics and Nutrition Lab at the Vancouver Aquarium to test his tag on one of our trained Steller sea lions.

The test was a complete success, generating even more power than originally predicted. The idea was a success too—for Nattan not only won the Regional Science Fair competition in April, but also took home a Silver Excellence Award in the Canada-Wide Science Fair in May.