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article imageThe impact of tracking devices on marine animals

By Chanah Rubenstein     Nov 1, 2013 in Science
Seen as low-impact, much of the data that scientists gather about wild animals is obtained through tracking devices. However, according to a new study, tracking devices may be disruptive for some animals, perhaps even deadly.
Tracking and tagging has allowed scientists to view the movements of many animals that we otherwise wouldn't be able to see, with little direct interference. It appears the cost of acquiring this scientific data is higher than we had believed, reports eCanadaNow.
For an adult animal, the drag created by commercial tracking devices may only be 5 percent, but for a small, juvenile animal, the drag could be as much as 100 percent. This drag could interfere with the creatures natural abilities to migrate, catch their prey, or avoid being prey.
T. Todd Jones, a scientist with the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center in Hawaii, led the study which was published Thursday in the journal Method in Ecology and Evolution.
To conduct the research, Jones and his colleagues used the air flow in the wind tunnel as a means to see how and where the animal is impacted by currents as they move through the waters. Looking at the shape, size, and placement of the devices, they can see where the impacts to the animal are, how it changes, and measure the percentage of drag on the animal. Next they can look at what is acceptable before it becomes a problem to the animal.
"If the drag costs from carrying tags disrupts their natural behavior, they may miss out on breeding and foraging seasons, be unable to catch enough food, or even end up becoming someone else's meal,” Jones said.
He added that the impact might also impede the data scientists collect, as it’s not the natural behaviour they are seeing, but one that has been affected by their devices.
"The guidelines we've developed can help ensure that the data collected accurately reflect the animals' natural behaviors in the wild, so we can devise conservation strategies accordingly.”
The research team has developed a universal formula for scientists to calculate drag for animals such as turtles, diving birds, fish and aquatic mammals, reports Nature World News.
In a video released by Methods in Ecology and Evolution, Jones describes the research methodology and its impact. “By reducing the impact of the tags to the organism, you have better biological realism in your data that leads to better understanding of their natural behaviours, biology and ecology. It also reduces the impact to the animal from an animal welfare concern. What you’re hoping for in the end, is tagged animals and beautiful releases.”
More about Marine animals, method of ecology and evolution, Tracking devices