Tracking and data-logging devices attached to elephant seals do not affect individual mass gain or survival
McMahon, CR and Field, IC and Bradshaw, CJA and White, GC and Hindell, MA, Tracking and data-logging devices attached to elephant seals do not affect individual mass gain or survival, Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 360, (2) pp. 71-77. ISSN 0022-0981 (2008) [Refereed Article]
Understanding the cryptic lives of wide-ranging wild animals such as seals can be challenging, but with the advent of miniaturised telemetry and data-logging devices this is now possible and relatively straightforward. However, because marine animals have streamline bodies to reduce drag in their aquatic habitats, attaching external devices to their back or head may affect swimming performance, prey capture efficiency and ultimately, fitness. Given this, and allied welfare concerns, we assessed the short- and long-term consequences of external devices attached to southern elephant seal juveniles and adults under varying environmental conditions. We also assessed the effects of multiple deployments on individuals. There was no evidence for short-term differences in at-sea mass gain (measured as mass on arrival from a foraging trip) or long-term survival rate. The number of times that a seal carried a tracking device (ranging from 1 to 8 times) did not affect mass or estimated survival. Further, there were no tracking device effects in years of contrasting environmental conditions measured as ENSO anomalies. Consequently, we conclude that the current tracking devices available to researchers are valuable conservation tools that do not adversely affect the performance of a large marine mammal in terms of mass gain or survival probability over short (seasonal) or long (years) temporal scales.