by guest author Andrea Kroetz, NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center
Acoustic tagging has become increasingly important for science. Scientists are using this amazing technology to track critically endangered smalltooth sawfish in south Florida to better understand their movement patterns and habitat use. Telemetry data are helpful to fishery managers who are designing plans to recover and conserve this endangered species.
Photo 1: Map of tagging (gold star) and detection locations (blue balloons) of an adult female smalltooth sawfish tagged and tracked in 2017. Credit: Andrea Kroetz, NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center.
Scientists place stationary acoustic receivers in key locations to collect and archive data remotely from tagged sawfish as they pass within range of the receiver. Each acoustic tag has a unique identification number and transmit information on the date and time at which the animal passes near a receiver. Although data collection by the acoustic receivers is limited by the number and location of receivers in place (e.g., an animal must past near a receiver for the data to be collected), large acoustic sharing networks are in place to allow multiple institutions with active acoustic arrays to collect and share data with colleagues tagging and tracking animals (e.g., iTAG and FACT networks, > 1000 receivers).
Photo 2: Andrea Kroetz, NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center, surgically implants an acoustic tag into a juvenile smalltooth sawfish. All research conducted under permits ESA 17787 and EVER-2017-SCI-0022. Photo credit: Desirée Gardner Photography.
So far over 30 smalltooth sawfish have been tagged with long-term acoustic tags and these tags have already provided invaluable data on the movements of both juvenile and adult smalltooth sawfish. Here is an exciting example of how the technology works.
In April of 2017, an adult female smalltooth sawfish was tagged offshore of the Florida Keys. The sawfish traveled up the west coast of Florida, and then a month later she was detected near the Charlotte Harbor Estuary. She spent the next several months swimming up and down the west coast of south Florida before she was detected in the backcountry waters of Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge and Everglades National Park. This is the first documented case of an adult smalltooth sawfish moving into the Charlotte Harbor Estuary and into backcountry waters. This also highlights the importance of protecting smalltooth sawfish critical habitat and the value of protected areas such as the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, and Eve
rglades National Park.
Photo 3: An adult smalltooth sawfish captured offshore of the Florida Keys during Florida State University Coastal & Marine Laboratory research. All research conducted under ESA permit 17787. Photo credit: Blair Witherington, Disney.
As collaborative acoustic networks continue to expand, and the technology improves, the opportunities to gather vital information on smalltooth sawfish will increase and improve our ability to manage and protect the population to recovery.
All research is conducted under Endangered Species Act permit #17787 and Everglades National Park permit #EVER-2017-SCI-0022. To learn more, or if you have questions about ongoing sawfish research or management, please call 1-844-4SAWFISH.
Tonya Wiley, President, Havenworth Coastal Conservation
Tonya can be reached at 941-201-2685 or Tonya@havenworth.org
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