What is acoustic telemetry?
Understanding movements of aquatic animals is essential for management and conservation. Acoustic telemetry is a technology that uses an acoustic transmitter and a receiver to track animal movements underwater. A transmitter (commonly referred to as a tag) is externally attached to or surgically inserted within an animal. These tags emit a series of pings at regular time intervals and as the tagged animal swims by a receiver, these pings are recorded as unique identification codes along with the date and time. The receivers store this information until the receiver is retrieved and data are downloaded. Receivers are deployed in arrays as part of many different individual projects. However, through collaborative networks such as the Atlantic Cooperative Telemetry Network (ACT), detection data can be exchanged among projects and tagged animals can be tracked at continental scales.
ACT began in 2005 as a grassroots effort during an Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission – Atlantic Sturgeon Technical Committee Meeting. As researchers began using acoustic telemetry technology more extensively along the eastern coast of the United States, the benefits of collaboration became apparent. Researchers started sharing acoustic telemetry tag detection recordings within their individual arrays with other researchers. In 2005, 15 researchers working on Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon started sharing data. Since then, the ACT Network has expanded to over 186 researchers from North Carolina to Maine and the data now include over 68 species. With the formation of other regional networks, collaborations proliferated further. Now, ACT collaborates with researchers from the Canadian Maritimes (Ocean Tracking Network; OTN) and other telemetry networks around the globe such as the FACT and Integrated Tracking of Aquatic Animals in the Gulf of Mexico (iTAG) networks.
One of the main challenges ACT faced during its expansion was developing and maintaining data sharing and collection standards. To combat this, the ACT Network worked with regional partners, the US Animal Telemetry Network, and the OTN to operationalize an ACT data portal (MATOS). Data and metadata are submitted through MATOS and securely archived in standard formats on the ACT_MATOS node, an OTN-compatible node. Detections are then cross matched among all OTN compatible regional database nodes, which include the FACT node to the south and the OTN node to the north. These partnerships make exchanging information about tags simple and straightforward and data are downloadable in standard, analysis-ready formats. As ACT continues to expand, it will become increasingly valuable as a collaborative science community that provides information on aquatic animal movement.