telemetry and tagging

Why study animal movement?

Nearly all processes related to animal ecology, including foraging, predator avoidance, mating, dispersal and migration, are intimately linked to animal movements. In addition, the study of animal movement can assist in estimation of survival rates and reproduction within specific populations, and determine distributions of individuals, populations, or species. As such, understanding and predicting where, how and why animals move to particular areas is arguably the most crucial objective of wildlife research and is central to establishing proper management and conservation strategies.

Tagging Marine Mammals

Marine mammals (including seals, dolphins, whales and walruses) live and move in an environment that makes it extremely difficult to study them. Until fairly recently direct observation was the most reliable method for collecting data of marine mammals’ location. Nowadays, wildlife researchers often use telemetry (derived from Greek: tele = remote, and metron = measure) to more effectively collect vast quantities of location data, making it possible to study animal movements across a range of spatial and temporal scales. During this process, animals are fitted with electronic tags that communicate with satellites (GPS or Argos systems) to determine a position on earth. In addition, tags can also include sensors that measure temperature, activity, sound, diving depth and duration. This information is either stored within the tagging device, which then needs to be re-collected, or transmitted directly to a receiver device. When choosing the best tracking device, researchers must consider the size and movement patterns of the study animal, the study budget, and most importantly the research questions they want to address.

Human disturbance

An important area of research in marine mammal ecology is the effect of humans on the marine environment including potential consequences on the movement behaviour of individuals. Anthropogenic activities such as commercial fishing, shipping and offshore energy development can cause considerable disturbance to the marine environment. Tagging individuals with electronic tracking devises offers great insight into the extent and risks associated with such disturbance activities on the well being of marine mammals.

Tagging of seals and porpoises

In the Section for Marine Mammal Research we focus much of our research efforts on tagging harbour porpoises and seals, living within the aquatic environments surrounding Denmark, to evaluate the impact of human disturbance on individual movement behaviour and subsequently population dynamics. We use these results to advice conservation and management directives.