Acoustic tracking shores up future of marine species

Marine scientists, including the Southern Shark Ecology Group at Flinders, have combined to develop a 10-year ‘data map’ of marine species of Australia’s coastline.

The acoustic tracking database hosted by Australia’s Ocean Data Network part of the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) is a powerful tool in the discovery, assessment, and monitoring our marine animals.

The scope and potential of the IMOS Animal Tracking Facility, operated by the Sydney Institute of Marine Science, is highlighted in a new paper in Nature journal Scientific Data which describes the continental-scale acoustic tracking database and its automated quality control process.

Almost 2,000 receiving stations are tracking 3,777 tagged Australian marine animals including white sharks, green sea turtles and tuna, says lead author Dr Xavier Hoenner, from the IMOS data team at University of Tasmania.

Over the past decade, the network has collected and quality controlled 49.6 million acoustic detections from these animals, giving researchers valuable insights into how far they moved – from a few kilometres to thousands – their preferred habitats and how their movements vary over time.

Macquarie University Professor Rob Harcourt, who leads the IMOS Animal Tracking Facility, says the data among other things will help to monitor the effects of climate change, including whether marine species are shifting south, altering their habitual movements and feeding habits.

“The data – available online via the Australian Ocean Data Network Portal – gives an in-depth picture of the behaviour of these animals over the past 10 years of the study enabling us to predict how behaviour might change in the future,” Professor Harcourt says.

“In this study, we were able to validate our tracking data by developing an open-source, state-of-the-art algorithm that identifies background noise signals and anomalous movements, thus strengthening considerably the quality and reusability of our dataset.”

Flinders University Associate Professor Charlie Huveneers says the project has given some fascinating insights.

“For example some of the dusky sharks tagged in Gulf St Vincent, as part of Michael Drew’s PhD project, were found to undertake yearly migrations between Western Australia and South Australia,” Associate Professor Huveneers says.

“Thanks to the long-term dataset and IMOS, we were able to observe this regular movement between the two States every year for four years.”

Read the full paper here

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