Satellite Tagging

Satellite tag tracks from 2011

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 on the individuals have been limited. Further work is needed to improve the scientific and conservation value of this technology.

Satellite tagging is now being studied and improved through 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 are being used in this study.  The first is one of the implantable satellite tags that is commonly used on humpbacks and other large whales. Our co-investigators include scientists and/or 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.

The second is evaluating a smaller type of tag (known as a LIMPET tag) that is more commonly deployed on the dorsal fin of toothed whales. Our co-investigators include the Alaska Sealife Center, Cascadia Research Collective and University of Alaska Fairbanks. LIMPET tag research is 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 are also sharing their sightings and images of tagged whales.

Tagging is being performed underSatellite tagging team NOAA scientific research permit #14245.