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New Tagging Guidelines to protect whales and their observers

New guidelines on cetacean tagging are published today in the IWC’s Journal of Cetacean Research and Management (JCRM).

Satellite tags are a particularly useful tool for studying cetaceans because whales spend most of their time under water, often in the most remote regions of the planet.  The first successful tagging of a whale was in the 1930s.  Today, cetacean-specific tags are commercially available and widely used to collect information on physiology, behaviour and ecology.

As well as tracking the geographic position of a whale, modern tags are often able to record data such as body and water temperature, heart rate, dive depth and duration, and acceleration speeds. They can also monitor physiology and behaviour within a changing environment, and help scientists to identify and predict whales’ responses to potential threats such as ocean noise or debris.

Whilst the benefits are clear and numerous, there are also risks to both the whales and the people involved in tag deployment.  The new guidelines provide best practice recommendations on all aspects of tagging.  They have been developed by a multi-disciplinary group of scientists from more than nine countries, with expertise including veterinary medicine, general biology and tag technology.    

The guidance begins with advice and a decision tree to ensure tagging is both ethically and scientifically justified, and offers an effective means of answering a specific question or series of questions.  The guidance then analyses the different types of tag available, both invasive and non-invasive, and provides criteria for deciding which type is best-suited to a project, for example assessment of the species, gender and age of animals to be tagged.

Comprehensive recommendations are provided on the physical deployment of tags including advice on how to sterilise any parts of a tag to be implanted, safe boat approaches, and minimising the force needed to successfully launch tagging projectiles.

Training, post-tagging follow-up work, and data sharing are also addressed by the expert group whose work has already been endorsed by the Scientific Committee of the IWC.

It’s hoped that this new guidance will help tag users, veterinarians, ethics committees and regulatory agencies to achieve high and consistent standards, whenever tag deployment is considered.  In addition to publication in the JCRM, the guidance will be available on the website www.cetaceantagging.info and shared with the widest possible range of relevant organisations.   

Click here to read the new guidance on tagging of cetaceans.