What a drag? Impacts of research instruments attached to marine animals

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.

Green turtle cast outfitted with satellite transmitter in wind tunnel

Green turtle cast outfitted with satellite transmitter in wind tunnel at University of British Columbia (Photo Credit: T. Todd Jones)

Turtle outfitted with satellite tagged released offshore of Saipan

Turtle outfitted with satellite tagged released offshore of Saipan (Photo Credit: Tammy Summers)

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.

For more information, please see article here.  A short video on the study can be found here.

About NOAA Fisheries PIFSC

NOAA's Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center conducts scientific research & monitoring that support the conservation and management of living marine resources.
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