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8.2.4 Improving Attachment Systems for Remotely-Deployed Cetacean Tags with External-Electronics


Summary: In order to effectively manage protected species such as endangered or depleted cetacean populations, we require detailed knowledge of their broad-scale habitat use, movements, and migration patterns over the course of months or years in order to assess how they are affected by environmental factors and anthropogenic activities. To address this problem, researchers are increasingly turning to electronic tagging technology in order to track animals and provide 61 data needed for stock assessments and other management actions (Sheridan et al., 2007). Until the last decade, medium-sized cetaceans, including many of the toothed whales, could not be tagged because they were either too large to capture safely for direct application of electronic tags, or because they were considered too small to tolerate the recent generation of implantable satellite-linked tags that penetrate more than 20 cm into blubber (e.g., Mate et al. 2007). A significant reduction in the size of the transmitters, and the development of attachment darts a decade ago, allowed for the remote deployment of tags on small to medium size cetaceans, with the transmitter remaining external and only darts anchoring the tag to the tissue (Andrews et al. 2008). However, the dart design has remained essentially unchanged since then, but has experienced a high level of premature tag detachments. Thus, there is a need to redesign and commercialize an attachment system for improved tag retention in order to increase tag attachment duration. This attachment system should also minimize potential impacts to study species.


Project Goals: There is a need to design and test (addressing factors that likely impact attachment duration), and make commercially available an attachment system that improves the retention of a remotely deployed external –electronics satellite-linked tag used for tracking cetacean movements. It must also decrease the chance of any anchor element breakage, while improving existing performance. Performance improvements include consistent multi-month attachment durations while minimizing tissue impacts and risks to the tagged animal’s welfare.

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