A GROUP of seals are calling home to help researchers learn more about them.
The seven grey seals swimming around Pembrokeshire are relaying their location and recent diving activity through to a satellite transmitter placed on their necks.
The information will help conservation workers understand the habits and preferences of the protected animal, and map where they go.
"Although grey-seal distribution at sea is relatively well known around much of northern Britain, the opposite is true in Welsh waters," said Blaise Bullimore, the Countryside Council for Wales' Senior Marine Conservation Officer for the West Region.
"We know from research that some seals travel very long distances - up to 2,100km - and others to very precise areas to feed."
He said over 1,200 young Pembrokeshire seals had been fitted with coloured tags in their hind flippers during the 1950s and 1960s and some of these were later re-sighted as far apart as Cornwall, Ireland and North Wales.
However, where they went and what they did before being sighted weeks or months later remained a mystery.
"Now we hope to solve this case, and to find out what Welsh seals get up to on the way," he said.
The UK's Sea Mammal Research Unit, based in Scotland, recently visited Pembrokeshire to fit the data-recording satellite transmitters as part of a Department of Trade and Industry-funded project.
The seals were caught around the bird reserve of Ramsey and its offshore islands by an experienced seal team with local advice from CCW and the RSPB.
"Tracking marine animals with data transmitters by ships or aircraft is very difficult and expensive, but modern satellite technology not only transmits information from the recorders but also lets researchers monitor the behaviour and condition of individual seals," said Mr Bullimore.
Although the transmitter is only a little larger than a pack of cards, attaching it to a grey seal is not easy. Seals spend a great deal of time in salt water or hauled out on rough rocks, and their streamlined shape offers few points for attachment. By placing it on the short, strong fur at the back of the seal's neck, the aerial can emerge from the water when the seal is at the surface.
The transmitters don't bother seals, and they fall off when the seal moults.
The project is part of the DTI's Strategic Environmental Assessment of the potential environmental impacts of oil and gas and renewable energy developments in UK waters.
In all, 20 seals will be studied. Others will be from Bardsey Island in North Wales and Hilbre Island in the Dee estuary.