Satellite-monitored radio tags have yielded important information for the conservation and management of large whales. Tags provide far greater detail on large whale movements and habitat use than more traditional studies, and past tagging projects have revealed the existence of entirely unknown whale habitats. As such, tagging represents an important tool for the conservation of whales. However, it is not uncommon for tags to stop transmitting within days to months of deployment, and follow-up studies to assess impacts on the whales have been limited. Further work is needed to improve the scientific and conservation value of this technology.
We are working to better understand and improve satellite tagging as part of long-term research on Gulf of Maine humpback whales. CCS has studied this population since the 1970s, and its strong fidelity to feeding sites, long feeding ground residency and accessibility are expected to allow repeated observations of tagged whales within the tagging year and many years into the future. Learn more about our population studies here.
The primary goals of this work are to characterize physical and physiological responses to the tag; to provide data to optimize tag performance and minimize tag loss and impact; and to better understand possible effects on individuals. The project is also producing new information on humpback whale movement and habitat use in the Gulf of Maine.
Two types of tags have been used in this study. The first is an implantable satellite tag that is commonly used on humpbacks and other large whales. Our co-investigators include scientists and veterinarians from the Australian Antarctic Division, Cascadia Research Collective, the National Marine Mammal Laboratory and The Marine Mammal Center. It is an National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP) project funded by NOAA and Exxon through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Follow-up monitoring for this project has also been supported by the Marine Mammal Commission.
The second tag being evaluated is a smaller type that is more commonly deployed on the dorsal fin of toothed whales (known as a LIMPET tag) . Our co-investigators for that work included the Alaska Sealife Center, Cascadia Research Collective and University of Alaska Fairbanks. LIMPET tag research was funded by the Pacific Life Foundation Marine Mammal Research Fund at the Ocean Foundation.
Tagging is being performed in the southwest Gulf of Maine, and especially in and adjacent to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. We monitor tagged whales on a weekly basis through the feeding season to evaluate whale and tag status. Many whale watching naturalists in the region also share their opportunistic sightings and images in support of this study.
Tagging is being performed under NOAA scientific research permit #14245.