New Sophisticated GPS Trackers Being Used on Whales

11 Jan 2017

Although robotic vessels and underwater drones have helped scientists with exploring the ocean, whales have now been used for learning with the help of GPS trackers. Oregon State University has shown this with their new tracking system.

Thanks to their new Advanced Dive Behavior (ABU) tag, they are able to track whales and transmit data every second for up to seven weeks at a time.

The ABU tags can monitor how the whales move, how they dive or orient their body and even track water temperatures and light levels.

The tags have been used by Oregon State University to show the whale’s feeding habits, swimming patterns, temperature preferences and what the whales do when a large boat happens to pass by and disrupt their environment. It shows how, where and when they feed could be affected by noises like the large boats.

The whales that are equipped with this GPS tracking technology can even help them to obtain data so they can learn about climate change and the conditions of the ocean. The whales allow them to collect data about water temperatures over remote locations and large distances through space and time.  They are even helping researchers learn more about the planet Earth, thanks to the whales.

Three different species of whales are equipped with this tracking technology and researchers are able to see specific behavior patterns by each species. For example, sperm whales like to dive deep into the ocean and stay down there for long periods of time, sticking to the seafloor. The baleen whales, during the summer, feed in one area as much as possible before moving on.

OSU’s professor and director, Bruce Mate, of the Marine Mammal Institute in the College of Agricultural Sciences department states that the whales equipped with the tracking devices give them an overall understanding of our oceans.

Once the tag gets to the 7 week point where its functionality ends, it automatically becomes detached from the whale.  It then floats to the ocean’s surface and produces LED lights and a tracking signal that helps the researchers locate it.

GPS tracking technology has long been used for many research projects. It is only now that researchers can really learn about our oceans and planet with GPS tracking.



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