Dolphin Tags

Full Title: Assessment of movement patterns and critical habitat for coastal and continental shelf small cetaceans in the Gulf of Mexico using newly developed remote satellite tagging techniques.

This project will develop a new and innovative approach for attaching satellite tags to small cetaceans without having to capture them.

The Team: Brian Balmer (Lead Investigator, National Marine Mammal Foundation,, Andrew Westgate (University of North Carolina Wilmington), Keith Mullin (NOAA), Teri Rowles (NOAA), Wayne McFee (NOAA), and Cynthia Smith (National Marine Mammal Foundation)

Technical Monitor: Laura Engleby ( and Jenny Litz (

Federal Program Officer/Point of Contact: Frank Parker (

This project began in June 2017 and will end in May 2021.

Award Amount: $407,128

Why we care: In order to conserve and restore small cetacean populations, including dolphins, it is important to know how different species move between habitats but that information can be difficult to gather. One method is to attach a tag to the animal that uses satellites to relay information about the animal’s location and movement back to researchers. The work will pioneer a way to remotely attach satellite tags to dolphins, saving animals and researchers the risks of capture, restraint, and handling of the animals.

What we are doing: The investigators are working with engineers to develop the ability to remotely attach satellite tags to dolphins. The researchers will deploy their newly developed tags on free-swimming dolphins in the coastal and continental shelf waters further offshore in the Gulf of Mexico to collect information on the movement, behavior, and habitat use of Atlantic spotted dolphins and bottlenose dolphins.

Expected Outcome: The project will produce a new way to attach satellite tags. Information from the new satellite tags will show how these dolphin species move between and use different habitats. This information is critical for managers developing effective management and restoration strategies.