| Updated at: 1504 PST, Thursday, October 21, 2010|
SYDNEY: The secret life of seabirds at the bottom of the world may yield valuable clues about global climate change, scientists say.
Australian researchers plan to learn more about the ecosystem of the southern ocean, including how it is changing, by attaching tiny tracking devices to the legs of snow petrels, one of only a handful of birds that breed exclusively in Antarctica.
"The information will tell us where the birds go and which marine habitats they use during the long winter months," said Colin Southwell, Australian Antarctic Division Ecologist on the "Aurora Australia" research ship.
Speaking to a British news agency by phone on Thursday shortly before sailing for the Antarctic, he added: "If we know where they go in the southern ocean to forage for food, we are much more likely to focus and look for the kinds of environmental drivers that might be driving the population."
The tracking devices are about the size of an adult's thumb and weigh only 1.5 grams. Plans are to track about 150 birds between three Australian-maintained Antarctic stations.
"We know several places where they breed so all we need to do is simply hold their beak and carefully remove them from their nest and put a tag on - it takes about a minute or two," said Southwell.
The project is part of a wider long term collaborative study of Antarctic animals, including Adelie and Emperor penguins, using a variety of methods such as tracking, population surveys and automated cameras to monitor breeding colonies in East Antarctica.