Animal telemetry is the science of elucidating the movements and behavior of animals as they move through the world’s oceans, coastal rivers, estuaries and great lakes. Animal telemetry devices (“tags”) yield detailed data regarding animal responses to the coupled ocean-atmosphere and physical environment through which they are moving. This can be done in near-real time, or by use of archival tags in which the data are stored or later transmitted to an array of sensors or satellites.
Animal species tagged have ranged from 6-gram salmon smolts to 150-ton whales. Detailed observations of animal movements and behavior in relation to critical habitats in their aquatic environment have significantly improved our understanding of ecosystem function and dynamics. These observations are critical for sustaining populations, conserving biodiversity and implementing ecosystem-based management through an increased understanding of ecosystem structures, functions, and processes, as well as, their importance to ecosystem services and values. Sensors carried by animals have recently come of age and deliver high resolution physical oceanographic data at relatively low costs. Animals are particularly adept at helping scientists identify critical habitats, spawning locations, and important oceanographic features (e.g., fronts, eddies and upwelling areas). They also provide important insights into regions of the oceans that are difficult and expensive to monitor (e.g., offshore environments, Arctic).
Animal telemetry observations can inform federal and state resource managers through improved spatial models of animal dynamics, and improve the basis of conservation and sustainable-use fishery management policies. A national Animal Telemetry Network (ATN) will provide exciting and important short and long-term benefits, including enhancing fisheries and ecosystem-based management, filling oceanographic knowledge gaps and improving ocean modeling and forecasting, and advancing many of the National Ocean Policy (NOP) Implementation Plan priority objectives.