NOAA Fisheries and University of British Columbia scientists published a study on the effects of tagging aquatic animals in the journal Methods of Ecology and Evolution. Their research, using casts of marine turtles in a wind tunnel, has produced useful guidelines for measuring potentially adverse affects associated with attaching tags, cameras and other equipment in ecological studies of aquatic animals. While it is understood that equipment attached to study animals has an effect on them, until now there has been no way to quantify the consequences for individual marine organisms.
Using information gained from the wind tunnel studies formulas were developed that enable researchers to make decisions concerning gear and “costs” to the animal being outfitted. Size plays a big role in this process but other factors such as behavior, instrument shape and retention time can contribute to these decisions. “Costs” to the animals with attachments could include changes in behavior, energy expended and survival.
The use of attached instruments to collect data on marine animals and their immediate environment is expected to increase. The formulas developed from this publication can be applied across marine species and allows researchers to adopt appropriate equipment and understand the overall effect on their subject animal. With the application of these new tools, researchers can obtain a clearer understanding of the natural behaviors of the marine animals studied and develop informed management decisions. For protected species like sea turtles, this can aid in their recovery; the ultimate goal of any steward.