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.
Benefits of a National Animal Telemetry Network
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.
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.
Animal Telemetry programs/projects in North America (yellow dots)
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
California Fish Tracking Consortium (CFTC)
Northwest Hawaiian Islands 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 – wide Acoustic Array Network (GAAN)
Great Lakes Acoustic Telemetry Observing System (GLATOS)
Alaska Animal Telemetry Ocean Observing. (AATOS)
Internationally funded project
Ocean Tracking Network (OTN)
Project Manager, Dr. Hassan Moustahfid:
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.
ATN White Paper (pdf)
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.
The mapping interface to visualize ATN data from several platforms is "coming soon".
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 http://www.nanoos.org/education/themes/fisheries_and_biodiversity.php.
(Credit: Dr. Daniel Costa, UC Santa Cruz)
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.
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.
- 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
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.