ResearchResearch methodsRemote tracking

Remote tracking

The ability to track cetaceans at sea depends critically on being able to attach a suitable device to the animal. This is difficult for cetaceans because, unlike seals, they are very difficult to catch and restrain and they do not have fur to which transmitters can be glued. However, the number of cetacean studies using telemetry is increasing. Transmitters have been deployed on harbour porpoises, bottlenose dolphins and even killer whales by physically capturing the animals and attaching the transmitter to the dorsal fin with pins. Transmitters have also been fired into the blubber of humpback, right and blue whales. For short-term behavioural studies, transmitters or data loggers can be attached to the animal’s skin with a suction cup.

The ability to collect data remotely from animals at sea via telemetry has dramatically improved our knowledge of the movements and behaviour of cetaceans at sea. The most valuable telemetry technique is satellite-relay telemetry, in which a transmitter on the animal sends data via a satellite orbiting the earth to a receiving station on land from where the data are recovered via a computer link. The data allow the location of the animal to be calculated and the great advantage of this method is that an animal can be tracked anywhere in the world for as long as the transmitter is working. Other data on, for example, dive depth, swimming speed and water temperature can also be relayed so that environmental factors influencing distribution, movements and foraging behaviour can be investigated.



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