US Television Critics' invitation for Swansea Smart Tag expert

Rory Wilson, Professor of Aquatic Biology at Swansea University, was an invited expert at the Television Critics’ Association meeting, held at the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, in August 2010. The group previewed what the cable and broadcast networks will be airing over the next six months

The Association represents more than 120 journalists, writing about television for print and online outlets in the United States and Canada.

Professor Wilson addressed members on the close involvement of Swansea University’s Smart Tag Group, which he leads, in National Geographic’s most ambitious television project to date.

Professor Wilson is the senior scientific consultant for the Great Migrations series, which is to be aired by National Geographic at the end of this year, involves using some of the Swansea team’s revolutionary electronic logging tags, to track and analyse the behaviour of marine animals round the globe. 

The research has revealed some surprising secrets about the way animals including elephant seals, penguins, cormorants, whales, and sharks live.

The team found, for example, that whale sharks, the largest fish on the planet, save energy during swimming by diving and rising in the water column in a series of waves in much the same way as the many tiny song birds that grace our gardens. They also documented how penguins use their natural buoyancy to shoot up from the depths to allow them to catch fast, elusive fish with little or no effort and the extraordinary graceful underwater ballet of the world’s deepest diving pinnipeds, elephant seals, otherwise best known for their bloody fights interspaced with lethargy on their breeding beaches.


Professor Wilson, Head of the Institute of Environmental Sustainability in the School of the Environment and Society, said: “This is the biggest TV project that National Geographic has ever undertaken. Our team was pivotal in the science behind the work and features in a special program that is part of the series.

Work for the series took members of the Smart Tag Team throughout the world. For example, they examined the behaviour of Sperm whales off the Azores where they dive 1 km down to the black, cold depths of the ocean in search of prey. The team attached devices to nesting Imperial cormorants and Magellanic penguins in windswept Patagonia and tracked them as they set forth to procure food for their brood, and they tagged and followed the movements of exotic sharks in the stunning, clear waters around Belize.  “Understanding the movements and behaviour of marine animals that range widely is difficult but important” said Professor Wilson. “Mankind is bringing many changes to the planet and it is appropriate that we understand how our changes affect wildlife, even when it occurs in the depths of the oceans where it may be playing a pivotal role in structuring foodwebs”.