New activity trackers for dolphin conservation
Published:02 Jan.2023    Source:ScienceDaily
Just like a smartwatch can tell its wearer how many calories they consume during exercise, data from dolphin wearables can now be used to estimate how much energy dolphins use when they swim. University of Michigan engineers, in collaboration with marine mammal specialists at Dolphin Quest Oahu, have led the development of wearable sensors for marine mammals to monitor movement and behavior in order to enhance marine conservation efforts for these animals.
Devices very similar to fitness trackers used by humans -- known as biologging tags -- are used in biology research, but estimating the energetic cost of swimming has been challenging.  In their new work, the researchers were able to develop estimates of energetic cost from tag data by working with their human and animal collaborators at Dolphin Quest. In this unique environment, the researchers were able conduct repeatable swimming trials over a range of speeds from multiple animals to generate the data needed to estimate how much energy the animals were using as they swam. Marine mammal specialists trained the dolphins to wear the tracker during lap trials and periods of free swimming. The tag sits between the blowhole and dorsal fin of the dolphin, attached with suction cups, where it noninvasively measures speed, temperature, pressure and movement. Six dolphins participated in the work, and just like data collection with humans, the animals were free to decline to participate in the work at any time.

The tag-based method is universally applicable to both animals in managed and wild settings, and can lead to a host of new research in monitoring the physical well-being of dolphin populations, which in turn will inform how we as humans are affecting their travel patterns, feeding requirements and lives in general.