What is marine telemetry?

Natural History

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a seal with animal telemetry device

Telemetry tags help researchers discover where marine animals are, where they go, and what their environments are like.

Marine telemetry interprets into data the movements and behavior of animals as they move through oceans, coastal rivers, estuaries, and the Great Lakes.  Telemetry devices, called tags, are affixed to a wide range of marine species, from tiny salmon smolts to giant 150-ton whales. Tags are attached to the outside of an animal with clips, straps, or glue, and are sometimes surgically inserted in an animal's body.

sea turtle with telemetry device

To maximize the safety of telemetry harnesses on leatherbacks, NOAA researchers use a system that has a corrodible link that dissolves over time in the sea water, allowing the sea turtle to shed the harness after approximately two years.

Telemetry tags help researchers discover where marine animals are, where they go, and what their environments are like. The tags, which are registered to enable the sharing of data, allow scientists to pick up their signals via research vessels, buoys, satellites, and other tracking networks. The signals yield detailed information about animals' responses to the water, atmosphere, and physical environments through which they move.

These observations significantly improve our understanding of ecosystem function and dynamics.  Sensors carried by animals deliver high-resolution physical oceanographic data at relatively low cost, and often in difficult areas to study, such as the Arctic.

Animals are particularly adept at helping scientists identify critical habitats, spawning locations, and important oceanographic features. For example, both sand tiger sharks tagged off of South Carolina and great white sharks tagged off of Cape Cod were tracked through the Gulf of Maine, and the data were shared with researchers studying the sharks' movements and behavior.

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