Considering the fate of electronic tags: Interactions with stakeholders and user responsibility when encountering tagged aquatic animals

Neil Hammerschlag, Steven J. Cooke, Austin J. Gallagher, Brendan J. Godley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The use of electronic tagging (e.g. acoustic, archival and satellite telemetry) to study the behavior and ecology of aquatic animals has increased dramatically over the past decade. As scientists continue to use these tools, it is inevitable that other researchers and the public at-large will encounter animals carrying such tags with increasing frequency. If the animals appear burdened or injured by the tag (e.g. showing signs of trauma), or if the tag is functionally impaired (e.g. cracked or severely biofouled), these encounters have the potential to generate conflict with various wildlife stakeholders (e.g. tourists/operators, divers, fishers, hunters) that can negatively affect research efforts and undermine conservation work. Yet, these encounters also present an unparalleled opportunity to advance the field of biotelemetry by improving animal welfare, tagging technology and practices, while also gaining the trust and support of wildlife stakeholders. Therefore, as scientists, it is important to consider the fate of our electronic tags. Here we consider tagged animals as encountered by different user groups and discuss the potential steps and recommendations that scientists can take to improve tagging techniques and animal welfare as a result. We also discuss interactions with stakeholders and the manifold benefits if such interactions are taken into account and embraced. We examine the situation where a researcher encounters, and is able and trained to handle a previously tagged animal equipped with a functionally impaired tag and/or the animal is exhibiting signs of burden due to the tag. We generate a decision tree for scientists faced with such a scenario and discuss the best course of action, whereas such a situation was relatively unlikely in the past, but is now a reality in all aquatic animal tagging studies. The framework in which these issues are discussed is novel and failure to address them can significantly impede advances in the development and use of biotelemetry and even one's ability to conduct research. It is our hope that our essay stimulates further discourse, debate, technological improvements and consideration of the fate of electronic tagging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1147-1153
Number of pages7
JournalMethods in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014


  • Animal welfare
  • Cetaceans
  • Fish
  • Satellite tags
  • Seals
  • Sharks
  • Tagging
  • Telemetry
  • Tracking
  • Turtles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecological Modeling


Dive into the research topics of 'Considering the fate of electronic tags: Interactions with stakeholders and user responsibility when encountering tagged aquatic animals'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this