AIRSHIP SHAMU TAKES MARINE ANIMAL RESEARCH TO GREAT HEIGHTS
ORLANDO, Fla., Jan. 6 /PRNewswire/ -- Sea World's Airship Shamu will embark on an extraordinary research expedition this month to help scientists collect valuable data about marine animals along the Florida coast. Beginning Jan. 9 through Jan. 29, researchers from the Florida Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Associated Scientists at Woods Hole, National Marine Fisheries Service and Sea World of Florida will conduct a series of trips aboard the airship to study endangered species such as the manatee, right whale and sea turtle, as well as sharks and dolphins.
Measuring 194 feet long and 63 feet wide, the airship's lighter- than-air design makes it an ideal tool for marine mammal research. Not only is the airship able to fly stationary for extended periods of time or match the swimming speed of an aquatic species, but it is also quiet and vibration free. These qualities make it an excellent resource for aerial observations of animals in the wild.
Airship Shamu will first travel to St. Augustine and New Smyrna Beach, where Massachusetts-based Woods Hole researcher Jim Hain will seek and observe right whales through Jan. 17. According to Hain, there are roughly 300 of this endangered species left in the northern part of the western Atlantic Ocean and the only known calving ground is off the coast of Georgia and northeastern Florida.
"We will take this opportunity with the airship to really examine the impact humankind has made in this critical breeding area," said Hain, who is collaborating with scientists from Boston's New England Aquarium on this research. "The whales are threatened by fishermen and net entanglement, as well as ship-related accidents." While there, Sea World researchers will survey dolphin herd size, behavior and distance from the shore as well as collect data on sharks and sea turtles.
From Jan. 18 through Jan. 21, Sea World Research Biologist Daniel Odell will study dolphin populations in the Indian River for the first time from the airship. This data will augment existing research conducted from a fixed-wing plane by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Findings from each of these expeditions will be correlated to evaluate the effectiveness of both survey platforms.
The third leg of the airship's trip from Jan. 22 to Jan. 29 will be devoted to manatee research. First traveling to Tampa Bay, biologists from the DNR will survey manatee populations and track satellite-tagged manatees, recording habitat use in and around the Bay. Manatees are drawn to warm waters, particularly near power plants and seagrass beds. "The DNR hopes to pinpoint any new areas where manatees show preference, so these territories, too, may be protected from threats such as boat traffic," said Odell.
Finally, DNR researchers will record manatee interaction with boats in Crystal River, a popular haven for manatees. Boat-related accidents are the leading cause of manatee deaths in Florida.
"As a result of the research conducted with Airship Shamu, valuable baseline information is being established and shared with scientists working to ensure these species' survival," said Odell. "These data are invaluable in the effort to protect marine animals from extinction. The use of the airship is revolutionizing the way scientists can observe marine animals in their environment."
This unique research project is part of the commitment made by Sea World and parent-company Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc., to protect and conserve wildlife. At Sea World of Florida, manatee conservation is a priority. The park is the largest facility in Florida authorized to rescue, care for and release manatees. In cooperation with the DNR and other state and federal agencies, Sea World has rescued more than 100 manatees and released 32 after rehabilitation. Sea World has also raised seven orphaned manatees.
The January expedition is the longest continuous marine animal research project undertaken with Airship Shamu. Since its introduction in 1990, the airship has participated in short studies to observe a variety of different marine animals and Sea World will continue to volunteer airship time to scientists, as possible.
As an ambassador for the Sea World parks, the airship regularly tours the country for special celebrations and sporting events. Airship Shamu just completed its 10-city fall tour, during which it provided aerial footage of the National League Championship Series and World Series for national and international television broadcast by CBS Sports.
Sea World is owned and operated by Busch Entertainment Corporation, the family entertainment subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc. Sea World parks are located in Orlando, Fla., San Diego, San Antonio, and Aurora, Ohio. Other Anheuser-Busch family entertainment parks include Busch Gardens in Tampa, Fla. and Williamsburg, Va.; Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pa.; Cypress Gardens near Winter Haven, Fla.; and Adventure Island in Tampa.
CONTACT: Lynne Anne Stevenson, 314-982-8603 or Nick Gollattscheck, 407-363-2357, for Airship Shamu/ CO: Sea World ST: Florida IN: SU: SM -- NY068 -- 7047 01/06/92 16:40 EST