New Activity Trackers for Dolphin Conservation
Published:16 Jan.2023    Source:ScienceDaily
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. Now, with custom biologging tags , the researchers are able to measure animal movement during thousands of strokes as they swim. The goal is to use tag data to estimate foraging events, how many fish were consumed during a day, and connect that to estimates of how much energy dolphins use during the movement required to catch those fish. This is important for conservation because we can then use our approach to estimate energetic costs when these animals are disturbed. 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-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. From a technological perspective, it is our hope that other researchers see the potential of dedicated on-tag speed sensing, and pursue the development of more adaptable speed sensors to enable energetics monitoring for a wider variety of marine animals.