Situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, with many species of baleen whales swimming close to the islands, the Azores is a unique location for satellite tagging. Last week, MAR-ECO held a satellite telemetry workshop in Horta, aiming to establish a large-scale tagging-programme.
By Leif Nøttestad
An interesting and enthusiastic MAR-ECO workshop on satellite telemetry was held in beautiful town Horta on Fajal in the Azores, 30-31 January 2006. Participants from Canada, Denmark, England, Norway, Portugal and USA met in the historical whaling museum. The meeting was organized with great assistance from local hosts from the University of the Azores, Department of Oceanography and Fisheries.
Topics presented at the meeting included telemetry on a wide variety of marine animals including large baleen whales, seabirds, large pelagic fish, sharks, sea turtles and cephalopods. Among the main objectives of the workshop were to present, discuss and evaluate the scientific needs and strategies for developing a large-scale integrated program on satellite and acoustic tagging of large baleen whales, seabirds, large pelagic fish and sea turtles along the mid-Atlantic ridge off the Azores.
A satellite-tagging programme based in the Azores
The Azores has a unique location in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Many species of baleen whales including blue whales, fin whales, sei whales, humpback whales and minke whales are known to swim very close to the islands, thus being highly available for satellite tagging. Since the whales may be approached so close to land, there is no particular need for a large research vessel and the vessel costs can be quite moderate.
The extensive numbers of skilled whale observers up in the mountains create an excellent opportunity to spot whales from land. Communication between the observers, the whale watching companies, and marine mammal scientists is superb, creating an enthusiastic atmosphere where people are helping each other reach their goals. These early observations and the effective communication can sometimes be vital for successful tagging of animals, and reduces the time needed to search for whales from a vessel.
A satellite-tagging programme based in the Azores can mainly be land-based and international collaborators visiting the University of the Azores in Horta can carry out their land-based activities while waiting for the right whales to appear or appropriate weather conditions. This is very cost-effective compared to renting a vessel for a dedicated period in which weather conditions may happen to be bad and/or whales may not appear. The Azores is also a brilliant starting point for satellite and acoustic tagging of seabirds, large pelagic fish such as tuna species and sea turtles.
Another benefit from working close to land is that local and international press and media have the opportunity to join scientists for shorter periods at sea or to seabird colonies and create a wide public awareness about the project.
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