Animal Tracking

Phil McDowall servicing a VR2W acoustic receiver at Scott's Reef.
Southern Elephant Seal (Mirounga leonina) with a CTD tag on. Image credit: Clive McMahon, SIMS.


The Animal Tracking Facility is one of eleven facilities of the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS). It represents the higher biological monitoring of the marine environment for the IMOS program.

Currently the Animal Tracking Facility uses acoustic technology, CTD satellite trackers and bio-loggers to monitor coastal and oceanic movements of marine animals from the Australian mainland to the sub-Antarctic islands and as far south as the Antarctic continent.

The Animal Tracking Facility is set up to collect data over a long period of time. This sustained approach will enable researchers to assess the effects of climate change, ocean acidification and other physical changes that affect animals within the marine environment.

Currently, a large range of fish, sharks and mammals are collecting a wide range of data. This includes behavioural and physical data such as depth, temperature, salinity and movement effort of individual marine animals.

This data is freely available via the IMOS Ocean Portal and can be overlayed with data from other IMOS facilities.


  • Form a national network and increase collaboration between acoustic telemetry researchers;

  • Invest in over 500 permanent, strategically located receivers to maximise national benefit and form a continental array with existing infrastructure;

  • Lead the Southern hemisphere section of an internationally coordinated Marine Animal Tracking program, i.e. the Ocean Tracking Network (OTN);

  • Act as a central data repository from collaborating institutes and researchers around the nation;

  • Assess climate change in the Southern Ocean.

Instrumentation and Data

Currently a large range of fish, sharks, reptiles, birds and mammals are collecting a wide range of data. This includes behavioural and physical data such as the depth, temperature, salinity and movement effort of individual marine animals.

The acoustic telemetry equipment was implemented in strategically chosen locations around Australia to provide connectivity between regional projects since 2007. The research infrastructure consists of 16 arrays including 257 stations; eight of those arrays including (132 stations) are configured as curtain arrays or coastal gates aiming to detect species travelling along coastlines. In addition to the arrays deployed by IMOS there are a number of arrays and curtains that have been installed across Australia by other research institutes and universities. The Animal Acoustic Telemetry community has worked to make these arrays visible through the Australian Ocean Data Network (AODN) Portal and the Animal Tracking Database. Currently, (October 2015) there are 2110 receiving stations visible through the database.

The Animal Tracking Facility also deploys CTD trackers and bio-loggers on Australian fur seals and sea lions, New Zealand fur seals, Southern elephant seals, Weddell seals, Emperor penguins and short-tail shearwaters. CTD satellite trackers and bio-loggers currently deployed on a large range of animals are collecting a wide range of data. This includes behavioural and physical data such as the depth, temperature, salinity and movement effort of individual marine animals.

Application of Data

  • In the first episode of the IMOS in MOcean video series, Dr Michelle Heupel from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) talks about her research tracking sharks. Michelle describes the surprising results that demonstrated the long-range migration of bull sharks from Sydney Harbour to the Great Barrier Reef. Michelle explains how knowledge of marine animal movements can inform decisions about marine resource management, for example when planning or managing marine protected areas. This new video represents the work of the IMOS Animal tracking facility and how partners such as AIMS collect and use the data.

  • Marine animal tracking featured in ‘Science’: Hi-tech tracking tags are redefining how we discover, understand and manage ocean life. A new paper, published in Science, details the explosion in aquatic animal tracking research over the past 30 years and its impact on discoveries about the movements, migrations, interactions and survival of both common and elusive aquatic species. The review describes a profound revolution, including over 20 examples of scientific breakthroughs, in global ocean observation science achieved through advancements in acoustic and satellite telemetry—tracking via electronic tags placed on organisms ranging from tiny neonate fish to large whales, which transmit data to fixed or mobile receiver stations or orbiting satellites.

  • “Tweeting” seals collect ocean data for international database. Diving marine animals are proving to be an essential way of collecting oceanographic data especially in hard to reach areas such as the ice-bound Polar Regions. IMOS tags seals in the Southern Ocean and this data is a major contributor to a new international data portal. From June 1, 2015, national oceanographic data centres and researchers will be able to access data collected by marine animals via the Marine Mammals Exploring the Oceans Pole-to-pole (MEOP) Portal ( To read more click here.

  • The World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia is the focus of a marine research partnership between CSIRO and BHP Billiton Petroleum, that uses existing IMOS infrastructure at Ningaloo Reef. The five-year, jointly-funded $5 million research program will include both deep and shallow reef research, turtle and shark tagging, and three PhD scholarships. In addition, there will be opportunities for the local community to be involved in some aspects of the research. The program will use existing IMOS infrastructure at Ningaloo Reef. IMOS and CSIRO deployed the Ningaloo Reef Ecosystem Tracking Array in 2007: this is an array of acoustic receivers that detect tagged fish and animals, which aims to understand species' movements and habitat use on the unique coral reef ecosystem. There have been 3,778,546 detections since 2007, with the data stored in a database accessed via the Australian Ocean Data Network (AODN) Portal.

Animal Tracking Policies

  • IMOS Animal Tracking Database Security Policy (PDF 74 KB)
  • IMOS Animal Tracking Protected Data Policy (PDF 104 KB)
  • IMOS Animal Tracking Tag Embargo Policy (PDF 74 KB)

Useful Links

The Animal Tracking Facility Publication Report - If you have any questions regarding the data, or corrections, or would like to add a publication or presentation that uses IMOS data please contact the IMOS office via email: publication(at)


Prof Rob Harcourt (Facility Leader)

Dr Fabrice Jaine (Scientific Officer)


Sydney Institute of Marine Science


Your access to the IMOS Animal Tracking data discovery and exploration is through the Australian Ocean Data Network (AODN) Portal.