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Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Wednesday 5/6/2002And staying north of the Border, news from St Andrews of text-messaging seals. Not a circus act, more marine biology: researchers have long been tracking the doings of our marine brethren by strapping satellite transponders to their backs and squirting position, depth and time data back to base when they loiter at the surface.

Wednesday 5/6/2002

And staying north of the Border, news from St Andrews of text-messaging seals. Not a circus act, more marine biology: researchers have long been tracking the doings of our marine brethren by strapping satellite transponders to their backs and squirting position, depth and time data back to base when they loiter at the surface.

But a lot of these species spend a lot of time close to shore -- so instead of using expensive and rather awkward satcomms, the scientists have built a mobile phone into their underwater snooping devices. The box sticks to the fur of the hapless mammals and sends data by text messages when it finds itself within range of a cellular base station. When the seal moults at the end of the season, the box is shed and all is happy.

What format the text messages have, I know not. HV 8N NICE FSH 4 T, GN SWMNG. But this is undoubtedly only the start -- the seals will no doubt work out how to text each other, then how to download new ring tones and finally demand only the newest, most streamlined phones in return for letting their lives be broadcast on this bathyspheric Big Brother,

Extend it to the rest of the animal kingdom with 3G and video streaming -- after all, natural history programmes are big box office -- and we could have the salvation of the mobile phone industry right here.