A new study out of Oregon State University (OSU) praises a type of high-tech tag now being used to track whales, one that offers researchers better information, over longer periods of time, than prior tracking devices.
The tag, dubbed "Advanced Dive Behavior" (ADB), improves "by several orders of magnitude" the ability to track whales as they feed and exhibit other behaviors, according to OSU researchers writing in the journal Ecology and Evolution.
According to the study's authors, the ADB tags can deliver up to seven weeks of constant data – depth of dives, how long the whales stay underwater, their reactions to man-made noise, and their responses to changes in water temperature.
The tag provides "a broad picture of whale behavior and ecology that we've never had before," said the study's lead author Bruce Mate, in a statement.
Between 2007 and 2015, the OSU marine researchers used the ADB tags on sperm, blue and baleen whales and gathered data on the animals for up to 50 days at a stretch, logging thousands of GPS locations and dives.
"By using this technology on three different species, we've seen the full range of behavior that is specific to each species," said study co-author Daniel Palacios. "Sperm whales, for instance, really like to dive deep, staying down a long time and appearing to forage along the seafloor at times. During summer the baleen whales will feed as much as possible in one area, and then they move on, probably after the prey density gets too low."
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The ADB tags record GPS location, water pressure, three-axis acceleration, magnetic fields, water temperature, and light level. They're attached to the whale's skin surface (see photo above) and can remain attached for nearly two months before releasing from the animal and floating to the surface for collection.
The technology, according to Mate, also has the benefit of providing data on general ocean and climate conditions. "It gives us vast amounts of new data about water temperatures through space and time, over large distances and in remote locations. We're learning more about whales, and the whales are helping us to learn more about our own planet."
"With this system we can acquire much more data at a lower cost, with far less commitment of time by ships and personnel," added co-author Ladd Irvine.
"This tag begins to bridge the gap between existing long-duration but low-data throughput tags, and short-duration, high-resolution data loggers," the scientists wrote.
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