Animal Telemetry Network, ATN

ATN Strategy & Recommendations

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A humpback whale breaching in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, off the coast of California.

Female northern elephant seal with a Wildife Computers GPS tag on her head. The tags on her lower back are archival MK 9 tags that are used to record the diving behavior (Credit: Dr. Daniel Costa, UC Santa Cruz)

Animal telemetry is the science of elucidating the movements and behavior of animals as they move through the world’s oceans, coastal rivers, estuaries and great lakes.  Animal telemetry devices (“tags”) yield detailed data regarding animal responses to the coupled ocean-atmosphere and physical environment through which they are moving.  This can be done in near-real time, or by use of archival tags in which the data are stored or later transmitted to an array of sensors or satellites.  Animal species tagged have ranged from 6-gram salmon smolts to 150-ton whales.  Detailed observations of animal movements and behavior in relation to critical habitats in their aquatic environment have significantly improved our understanding of ecosystem function and dynamics.  These observations are critical for sustaining populations, conserving biodiversity and developing the kinds of data required to implement ecosystem-based management.  Sensors carried by animals have recently come of age and deliver high resolution physical oceanographic data at relatively low costs.  Animals are particularly adept at helping scientists identify critical habitats, spawning locations, and important oceanographic features (e.g., fronts, eddies and upwelling areas).  They also provide important insights into regions of the oceans that are difficult and expensive to monitor (e.g., offshore environments, Arctic).  Animal telemetry observations can inform federal and state resource managers through improved spatial models of animal dynamics, and improve the basis of conservation and sustainable-use fishery management policies.  ATN provides exciting and important short and long-term benefits, including enhancing fisheries and ecosystem-based management, filling oceanographic knowledge gaps and improving ocean modeling and forecasting, and advancing many of the National Ocean Policy (NOP) Implementation Plan priority objectives.



Animal Telemetry Observations and Applications

Animal Telemetry Observations and Applications

Benefits of a National Animal Telemetry Network


Potential benefits and beneficiaries of a national ATN include:

Provide the scientific basis for marine fisheries and protected-endangered species management.

This includes fisheries management as mandated under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, Ecosystem Based Management (EBM) as mandated under the National Ocean Policy implementation plan, and management decisions for the recovery of protected marine species, such as marine mammals, fish and turtles as mandated under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ATN will provide near real-time geospatial data integral to realistic parameterization of spatially explicit population and fishery assessment models. Such models assist with the conservation of species and the maintenance of biodiversity ensuring U.S. adherence to international agreements that provide a policy framework for effective management of trans-boundary fisheries and global oceans, such as the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Sea, the UN Fish Stocks Agreement, and the International Convention on Biological Biodiversity. (Beneficiaries: Primarily NOAA, USFWS, and state agencies as the primary agencies charged with aquatic species management in coastal waters – secondarily any other agency or researcher whose activities may impact those species).

Define essential or critical habitats for species protected under the ESA and MMPA through the investigation of regional connectivity of marine biological resources and integration of ocean observation systems across large marine ecosystems, sanctuaries, and marine protected areas. NOAA and USFWS among other agencies will benefit from such efforts.

Provide real-time monitoring of marine fish, turtles, birds, and mammals that facilitate management of marine protected areas, identification of operational windows for construction/dredging or other industrial activities, assess the impact of major environmental events, and the enforcement of fisheries regulations, to avoid harming sensitive stocks and to improve fisheries harvests. Beneficiaries from such data include: NOAA, NPS, NAVY, and BOEM.

Evaluate the potential effects of anthropogenic disturbances. ATN will provide the critical baseline for behavior and movement of aquatic species that will aid agencies and industry that are required to assess the impact of their activities (e.g. coastal/estuarine/riverine development, ocean thermal energy conversion and wind farm energy development, aquaculture sites, military activities, shipping, sewage treatment facilities, and marina development) under U.S. environmental regulations. Among the beneficiaries: BOEM, DOE (Bonneville Power), USFWS, NAVY, NOAA, OR&R, USACE, coastal state resource agency and private industry.

Improve coupled ocean-atmosphere observation and forecasting models.

Animal telemetry provides large volumes of oceanographic- water column profiles (temperature, conductivity, light level, oxygen, chlorophyll), and complements gliders and other autonomous vehicle products to provide unique and cost effective data from poorly sampled ocean regions. ATN data will also provide increased understanding of ecosystem processes and improve predictions of future ecosystem conditions including storms, floods, drought, climatic variation and other weather. Beneficiaries: include NAVY/NAVOCEANO, NOAA/NCEP, USCG, State agencies and private industry.


Locations & Coverage, Project Details

Animal Telemetry Programs / Projects in North America.

Animal Telemetry programs/projects in North America (yellow dots)

Animal Telemetry programs/projects in North America (yellow dots)

Animal Telemetry programs/projects in North America

Atlantic Arena

Coast of Maine Passive Acoustic Sensor System (CoM-PASS)
Penobscot Telemetry Group
Atlantic Cooperative Telemetry Network (ACT)
Florida Atlantic Coast Telemetry Project (FACT)   
Adopt a Billfish
Tag A Giant Foundation 

Pacific Arena

California Fish Tracking Consortium (CFTC)
Northwest Hawaiian Islands array
PacIOOS array
Hawaii TunaTagging Project (HTTP)    
Large scale Census of Marine Life (COML) projects:
Tagging of Pacific Pelagics (TOPP)  
Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking (POST)

Gulf of Mexico

Gulf of Mexico – wide Acoustic Array Network (GAAN)

Great Lakes

Great Lakes Acoustic Telemetry Observing System (GLATOS)


Alaska Animal Telemetry Ocean Observing. (AATOS)
Internationally funded project
Ocean Tracking Network (OTN)

Contact Information

Project Manager, Dr. Hassan Moustahfid:
Phone: 301-427-2447

Workshops and Meetings

2nd Animal Telemetry Observations Network, 2012 - Washington DC

This second meeting was organized into five theme sessions, which included the current status of the existing/planned animal telemetry assets, the data management structures, options to transition to operational status of existing and emerging marine animal telemetry sensor technologies, top problems that each region faces, which a national network could help to solve, and developing a strategic plan for establishing US ATN.

Download (pdf)

ATN White Paper (pdf)



1st Animal Telemetry Observations Network, 2011 - Santa Cruz, CA

NOAA’s IOOS and National Marine Fisheries Service had hosted a meeting in Santa Cruz, California in order to bring together the broader tagging community. The goal of this workshop was to talk about establishing a national capacity for Animal Telemetry Observations and developing a stronger national capacity to understand coastal and ocean biology and oceanography.

Download (pdf)


ATN Data and Data Services

ATN Data Assembly Center


Animal Acoustic Telemetry (AAT) Metadata Convention

A complete description of this AAT convention and implementation project is posted in IOOS tech wiki. There is also a link to the Final Version of the Metadata Convention as well Python Codes to access the data via webservices and other useful information.

AAT convention was implemented at NANOOS with a subset of  OTN/Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking database. Data are served via NANOOS ERDDAP and GEOSERVER. For more information please visit NANOOS website at


ATN Satellite Tags

ATN real-time data are served via the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Global Telecommunication System (GTS) to operational forecasting centers and also via ERDDAP.



(Credit: Dr. Daniel Costa, UC Santa Cruz)


Launch the ATN Data Assembly Center


Organizations and Partners Involved

Major “customers” of a national ATN include: 1) Federal and state agencies; 2) fisheries, marine mammal, sea turtle and bird conservation and management communities; 3) tribal communities; 4) the energy sector; 5) the tourism sector; 6) the general public; 7) educational institutions; 8) private industry.

Press Release

National Ocean Observing System to See Marine Animal Migration, Adaptation Strategies

podcast Animal Tagging Audio Podcast:

Explore the World of Animal Tagging Podcast

Collecting Ocean Data with Marine Mammals. Scientists are enlisting marine mammals with electronic tags to collect critical ocean data from around the nation. NOAA's Integrated Ocean Observing System is working to standardize various tagging programs so researchers can better tap into this data stream.


Regional Animal Telemetry Program/Projects

PacIOOS Shark data




NOAA Animal Telemetry Program/Projects

- New Research Published on Climate Change Impacts on Marine Predators

- NOAA SWFSC killer whale tagging

- NOAA sponsored SBIR (R&D) program acknowledges the two fundamental demands of the agency: boosting innovation in tag design and significantly reducing tag cost.

- First Satellite Tracks of Young Sea Turtles in the South Atlantic Ocean

- Cooperative Shark Tagging Program

- Southeast US billfishes, Shark and Fish tagging programs

- Using DTAGs to study acoustics and behavior of Southern Resident killer whales

- Whale tagging program in Stellwagen Bank

- Northeast US fish tagging program

- Alaska National Marine Mammal Laboratory marine mammals tagging program

- Pacific Tuna Tagging Project

Satellite Tracking Reveals Foraging Areas for Green Turtles Nesting at Rose Atoll


Technical Documents
Publications and Citations

Exploring New Technology Horizons by Mary Glakin, Tracy Rouleau, Suzanne Skelley, and Zdenka Willis (pdf)

Moustahfid et al. 2011. Toward a national Animal Telemetry Observing Network (ATN) for our oceans, coasts and great lakes: workshop synthesis report (U.S. IOOS workshop, March 2011, Santa Cruz, California). U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS, NOAA-TM-NMFS-SWFSC-482,51p.

ATN white paper for the IOOS Summit November 2012.


Other resources