Animal Tagging


The Antarctic and the surrounding Southern Ocean are one of the most important, yet least observed of marine habitats. Connecting all the world’s oceans, the physical structure of the Southern Ocean profoundly influences world climate and ecology, and plays a key role in global climate. 

The merging of oceanography and marine mammal ecology advances our understanding of the world’s oceans and its top predators, and allow us to predict how these species will be affected by future climate changes. Furthermore, recent technological advancements permit the collection of important data on ocean properties throughout the Antarctic winter – data previously unavailable but crucially important to oceanographic and climate studies.

Credit: Clive McMahon, SIMS.

Instrumentation and Data

There are two types of location tags used in IMOS. Satellite Relay Data Loggers (SRDL) (most with CTDs, and some also with fluorometers) are used to explore how marine mammal behaviour relates to their oceanic environment. These loggers transmit data in near real time via the Advanced Research and Global Observation Satellite (Argos) system. Miniaturized loggers with high resolution sensors directly enhance the collection of oceanographic data in the Southern Ocean and in Australian boundary currents by providing temperature and salinity profiles from regions of the Southern Ocean and coastal shelf regions that are difficult to sample by other means (e.g. beneath the winter sea ice). As of September 2015 ~230,000 CTD profiles have been collected in the Southern Ocean and Australian coasts.

Geolocation archival (GLS) tags were used in seabirds such as short-tailed shearwaters (Puffinus tenuirostris), snow petrels (Pagodroma nivea) and emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri), and can store data from up to four sensors (e.g. date, time, temperature, and light levels). Deployment of these tags ceased at the end of 2014.

Application of 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.

  • Using light-level geolocation archival tag technology, 27 adults of short-tail shearwaters from a southern Tasmanian colony were tracked from their arrival in October to March (2010–2011), providing information on a total of 77 pre-laying exodus, incubation and chick-rearing flights throughout the Southern Ocean. During the pre-laying exodus and incubation phases, the birds visited waters of the sub-Antarctic Front and Polar Frontal Zone. After hatching, the birds made direct flights to the Marginal Ice Zone between 155°E and 90°E. This study has shown that STSH alter their foraging movements over the course of the breeding season, using areas that are likely to provide predictable food resources. (Cleeland et al., 2014).

    Cleeland, J.B., M.-A. Lea and M.A. Hindell. 2014. Use of the Southern Ocean by breeding Short-tailed shearwaters (Puffinus tenuirostris). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. 450: 109-117.

  • The Bonney Upwelling occurs every austral summer along the south-eastern South Australian coastline, a region that hosts over 80% of the world’s population of an endangered endemic otariid, the Australian sea lion. We present the first data on the movement characteristics and foraging behaviour of adult male Australian sea lions across their South Australian range. The study contrasts current general assumptions that male otariid life history strategies should result in greater dispersal, with adult male Australian sea lions displaying central place foraging behaviour similar to males of other otariid species in the region (Lowther et al., 2013).

    Lowther, A, Harcourt, R, Page, B, Goldsworthy, S. 2013. Steady as he goes: at-sea movement of adult male Australian sea lions in a dynamic marine environment, PLoS One, 8(9): e74348