Manatee Radiotelemetry at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

Attaching tags to manatees, which does not cause harm or discomfort to the animals, allows researchers follow individual animals and learn about manatee movements and habitat usage.

Determining animal movement patterns and use of important habitat is an important aspect of the manatee research conducted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Attaching tags to manatees allows researchers to follow individual animals without causing harm or discomfort to the animal. A belt is attached around the base of the tail and connects to a flexible nylon tether and floating tag.

A satellite tag attached to a manatee

The tag weighs approximately 5 pounds. While the flexible tether is designed to avoid entanglement in debris, a machined weak point in the tether allows the manatee to break free if the tag is caught. The tag contains a satellite and VHF transmitter. The satellite transmitter sends signals to receivers on two NOAA weather satellites in polar orbit. Service Argos processes the transmissions at receiving stations and calculates the location of each transmitter. On computer, we can obtain up to four locations per day on an individual manatee. Directly observing the tagged manatees, located via a VHF beacon in the tag housing, allows scientists to document behavior patterns, associations with other manatees, and reproductive success of females. Unique color band combinations at the top of each tag are used for visual identification of individual manatees. Tags occasionally get hit by boats and sometimes are bitten by alligators. Manatees with tags behave just like untagged manatees.

A tagged manatee A tagged manatee

Photo credits: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)

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