Animal-borne telemetry tags for conservation and weather forecasting

CTD tag on a southern Elephant Seal

The Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) Instrumentation Group, of the School of Biology, has designed, built and supplied about 400 telemetry tags per year since 2008, resulting in economic benefit to companies in the UK and abroad of over £7M, informing decisions on the conservation of species and contributing to weather forecasting and ocean prediction. Tags have enabled national agencies in 15 countries to build their knowledge of endangered or threatened species and allow judgements to be made about the regulation of offshore industrial developments. This includes species such as the Monk Seal and Steller Sea Lion.

Elephant Seals have provided temperature profiles from the southern ocean.

Seal-borne unobtrusive instruments can provide information on conductivity and temperature during the animals’ dives, particularly useful in Polar Regions, which is relayed to World Meteorological Organisations to improve weather and ocean forecasting. Hundreds of thousands of conductivity/temperature/depth (CTD) profiles from seals tagged with SMRU instruments have been incorporated into the World Ocean Database, providing over 50% of all such profiles available for the Southern Ocean south of 60°S. Tags on elephant seals in the southern oceans have improved Global Ocean circulation models significantly, leading to better forecasting of the weather.

These ‘tags’ are glued to the seals fur (so that they drop off during the next moult) and record behavioural and oceanographic data during the animals’ migration.