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Acoustic Telemetry Tracks Florida Keys Reef Fish

Watch a team of FWC scientists tag fish under water.

Florida Fish and Wildlife scientists have been using telemetry to study the movement of several grouper and snapper species in the Dry Tortugas since May of 2008. In 2013, the Keys Finfish Research team shifted their focus from the Dry Tortugas to the rest of the Florida Keys Reef Tract. Through a network of approximately 130 acoustic receivers, scientists are studying the movement patterns of species such as mutton and gray snapper, black grouper, lionfish, permit and even spiny lobsters.

Individual animals caught in shallow waters are brought to the boat, and an acoustic tag is inserted into the abdominal cavity of the fish. The fish is then monitored and, when considered strong enough, released back onto the reef by divers.

For fish swimming in deeper waters, scientists use a trap to capture the fish.  Then, a team of divers perform the surgery underwater to reduce the possibility of pressure-related injuries to the fish.

To track the movement of these tagged animals, a network of underwater receivers was placed throughout the Keys.  When a tagged fish swims near one of these acoustic receivers, the unique identification number of the tag as well as the date and time is recorded.  Periodically, scientists retrieve these underwater receivers to download the logs and examine the movement patters of the tagged fish.

As of the summer of 2014 there were a total of 52 individuals with active tags comprised of 11 different species of reef fish in the waters of the Florida Keys.  The tags can last several years.  This allows scientists to continue to gain a more complete understanding of how these animals use their surroundings for years to come.

To learn more about our telemetry studies, visit the Acoustic Telemetry Research section.