Novel attachment methods for assessing activity patterns using triaxial accelerometers on stingrays in the Bahamas

Abstract

The use of bio-logging devices is important for describing behaviour, energy expenditure and activity budgets of cryptic marine organisms. In stingrays, the physical deployment of bio-logging devices is challenging due to their lack of raised structures or hard tissue for attachment. Previous studies have used a range of attachment techniques on various locations, including the pectoral musculature of the discs, spiracular cartilage or tail musculature. For devices such as accelerometers that capture precise animal movement, appropriate attachment and retention are important for collecting data that are representative of animal movement. Here, we detail a novel attachment method for bio-logging devices on stingrays using triaxial accelerometers that were attached through the musculature at the base of the tail of ten wild southern stingrays (Hypanus americanus). Data returned upon recapture suggest that stingrays exhibited active and non-active states and had the highest activity levels (vector sum acceleration) during the night with no apparent tide-associated activity patterns. Tag retention was 100% for all recaptured individuals (n = 8), with deployments lasting from 13 to 212 days. Wounds associated with the tagging process were completely healed for individuals that were recaptured after tag removal (n = 3). High rates of tag retention, usability and ecological significance of retrieved data, and complete healing following tag removal suggest that the methods described herein should be considered when attaching small bio-logging devices to large demersal rays for short- (weeks)-to-medium-term (months) studies.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank N. Firing, C. Grossi, R. Hallinan, K. Luniewicz, M. Marsh, the Island School Stingray Class of fall 2015, and countless volunteers and students who helped locate and catch stingrays. The authors would also like to thank two anonymous reviewers for many insightful comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this manuscript. Jake Brownscombe provided invaluable guidance in the initial phases of this project. Funding for this project was provided by the Cape Eleuthera Foundation. Ian Bouyoucos is supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.

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Correspondence to Chris R. E. Ward.

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The datasets during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Research was conducted under permits MAF/FIS/17 and MAF/FIS/13, issued by the Bahamian Department of Marine Resources. Animal care protocols were based on guidelines from the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour and the Animal Behaviour Society (Rollin and Kessel 1998).

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Ward, C.R.E., Bouyoucos, I.A., Brooks, E.J. et al. Novel attachment methods for assessing activity patterns using triaxial accelerometers on stingrays in the Bahamas. Mar Biol 166, 53 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-019-3499-z

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