Marine Biology

, Volume 147, Issue 4, pp 833–843 | Cite as

Comparison of light- and SST-based geolocation with satellite telemetry in free-ranging albatrosses

  • Scott A. ShafferEmail author
  • Yann Tremblay
  • Jill A. Awkerman
  • R. William Henry
  • Steven L. H. Teo
  • David J. Anderson
  • Donald A. Croll
  • Barbara A. Block
  • Daniel P. Costa
Research Article


Light-based archival tags are increasingly being used on free-ranging marine vertebrates to study their movements using geolocation estimates. These methods use algorithms that incorporate threshold light techniques to determine longitude and latitude. More recently, researchers have begun using sea surface temperature (SST) to determine latitude in temperate regions. The accuracy and application of these algorithms have not been validated on free-ranging birds. Errors in both geolocation methods were quantified by double-tagging Laysan (Phoebastria immutabilis Rothschild) and black-footed (P. nigripes Audubon) albatrosses with both leg-mounted archival tags that measured SST and ambient light, and satellite transmitters. Laysan albatrosses were captured and released from breeding colonies on Tern Island, northwestern Hawaiian Islands (23°52′N, 166°17′W) and Guadalupe Island, Mexico (28°31′N, 118°10′W) and black-footed albatrosses from Tern Island. Studies were carried out between December 2002 and March 2003. For all birds combined, the mean ± SD great circle (GC) distance between light-based locations and satellite-derived locations was 400±298 km (n=131). Errors in geolocation positions were reduced to 202±171 km (n=154) when light-based longitude and SST-based latitude (i.e. SST/light) were used to establish locations. The SST/light method produced comparable results for two Laysan albatross populations that traveled within distinctly different oceanic regions (open ocean vs more coastal) whereas light-based methods produced greater errors in the coastal population. Archival tags deployed on black-footed albatrosses returned a significantly higher proportion of lower-quality locations, which was attributed to interference of the light sensor on the tag. Overall, the results demonstrate that combining measures of light-based longitude and SST-based latitude significantly reduces the error in location estimates for albatrosses and can provide valid latitude estimates during the equinoxes, when light-based latitude measurements are indeterminate.


Argos Satellite Telemetry Argos Data Great Circle Distance Laysan Albatross 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank D. Barton and K. Lindquist for assistance in the field, Dr. B. Flint and the US Fish & Wildlife Service for logistical support on Tern Island, and Groupo Ecologica Conservación de Islas and the Mexican Navy for logistical support on Guadalupe. We also thank Dr. P. Raimondi for statistical advice, P. Robinson for programming assistance, and L. Hutnick for assistance with graphics. This research was part of the Tagging of Pacific Pelagics (TOPP) program, funded in part by the National Ocean Partnership Program (N00014-02-1-1012), and the Office of Naval Research (N00014-00-1-0880 & N00014-03-1-0651). All protocols employed in this study were approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees at UCSC. This paper is dedicated to A.M. Shaffer (b 19 October 2004).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Scott A. Shaffer
    • 1
    Email author
  • Yann Tremblay
    • 2
  • Jill A. Awkerman
    • 3
  • R. William Henry
    • 2
  • Steven L. H. Teo
    • 4
  • David J. Anderson
    • 3
  • Donald A. Croll
    • 2
  • Barbara A. Block
    • 4
  • Daniel P. Costa
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of California Santa Cruz, Long Marine Lab—Center for Ocean HealthSanta CruzUSA
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaSanta CruzUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyWake Forest UniversityWinston-SalemUSA
  4. 4.Hopkins Marine StationStanford UniversityPacific GroveUSA

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