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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: Part 2

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

The Team: Michael Moore and Jason Kapit (Lead Investigators, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution,,, Randall Wells (Chicago Zoological Society), Lori Schwacke (National Marine Mammal Foundation), Andrew Westgate (University of North Carolina Wilmington), and Cynthia Smith (National Marine Mammal Foundation)

NOAA Scientific Advisors: Keith Mullin (, Wayne Mcfee (, and Teri Rowles (

Technical Monitor: Jessica Powell ( and Jenny Litz (

Federal Program Officer/Point of Contact: Frank Parker (

This project began in July 2021 and will end in June 2024.

Award Amount: $283,971

Why it matters: In order to conserve and restore small cetacean populations, including dolphins, it is important to know how different species move between habitats. However, 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. Our 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 the team is doing: Phase 1: The investigators are developing and testing new technology that will allow satellite-linked tags to be remotely attached, avoiding the requirement to catch and restrain dolphin. Phase 2: Once successfully tested, the researchers will use the technology to deploy tags on free-swimming dolphins in coastal and continental shelf waters of 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 method to attach satellite-linked tags, allowing researchers to deploy the tags on dolphin species and stocks that have never been tagged before. Information from the tags will show how these dolphin stocks move between and use different habitats. This information is critical for managers developing effective management and restoration strategies.4