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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fukushima radioactivity may help track fish migration in oceans

It's an ill wind that blows no good, and while the Fukushima nuclear-plant disaster was certainly an ill wind, there's a chance of a slight benefit: Incipient radiation in sea life may be used to track migration patterns.

The LA Times has a good, long story about it (read the whole thing here):

Pacific bluefin tuna migration is mysterious. Only some of the tuna born each year leave the Western Pacific around Japan for California, swimming for two months or more to reach their destination. They stay here for a few years, and then they swim back to the waters where they were born so that they can reproduce. Some tuna are thought to cross the ocean multiple times.

Researchers don't really understand why. It may have to do with food availability, ocean temperatures or other factors.

Madigan's doctoral research tries to fill in some of the blanks by looking for nitrogen and carbon isotopes in tissue that serve as signatures of where the fish have lived and for how long. But interpreting the chemical signatures can be tricky. If Madigan could use the radioactive signal from Fukushima to confirm the results of the chemical analysis, he realized, it might bolster his work.

He imagines pulling together a map of the Pacific crisscrossed by the paths of radiation-toting animals — "an amazing image of transport … all from a little dot" in Japan, he said.