Mobile receivers: releasing the mooring to ‘see’ where fish go


Much has been learned from the large scale deployment of acoustic tags on aquatic species and associated networks of riverine and marine receivers. While effective in the linear environment of river systems, marine systems limit the ability to provide spatial information on fish movements and distributions due to a combination of costs, logistics, and lack of off-shore technology. At the same time, each year millions of dollars worth of tags are being released into the aquatic environment with extended battery/transmission life, yet detections are limited to coastal arrays. Here we explore new methods of tracking acoustically tagged species in the marine environment. A new miniaturized acoustic receiver, the Vemco Mobile Transceiver (VMT) can be carried by large marine organisms. In combination with satellite and archival tag technology, VMTs were deployed on northern elephant seals to monitor acoustic tags encountered during their migrations across the Northeast Pacific. Early results include acoustic detections of tagged great white sharks, salmon sharks, Chinook salmon, steelhead, lingcod, green sturgeon and other elephant seals. We also propose several alternative directions for future effort: 1) analyzing the growing number of passive acoustic survey recordings made from hydrophone arrays for acoustic tag detections, 2) working with acoustic technology providers to develop hull-mounted receiver systems for the thousands of ocean going vessels around the world and 3) integrating acoustic receiver technology into the thousands of moored and drifting oceanographic buoy arrays.

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We would like to acknowledge Barbara Block, Barry McCovey, Mary Anne Bishop, Phil Sandstrom, Rick Starr and Sal Jorgensen for confirming the species identification of the detected tag codes. The SWFSC Fisheries Ecology Division librarian Kit Johnston provided valuable help digging up references for AIS ship tracking sites. Hopkins Marine Station provided permission for beach access to release juvenile elephant seals in November 2009. The AIS ship distribution maps in Fig. 5 were used with permission by, copyright Permission to use the Argo Status Map (Fig. 6) was provided by the Argo program ( and the Argo Information Centre. The Advanced Survey Technology group at NOAA’s SWFSC conducted recordings of acoustic tags to be used in the development of automated detectors in the ISHMAEL software package. The West Coast and Polar Regions Undersea Research Center provided a grant to cover the deployment costs of VMTs and associated hardware on elephant seals, along with significant intellectual and moral support. Specifically, we would like to credit Director David Christie for stimulating the idea to incorporate mobile acoustic receiver technology into the animal tagging work, and our program manager Jennifer Reynolds for her enthusiasm, wisdom and patience. Elephant seal handling procedures were approved by the UCSC Chancellors Animal Research Committee and covered by NMFS permit #14636 to Daniel Costa. Additional funding was also provided by US Navy grants N00014-10-1-0534 and N00244-10-1-0047. This is PMEL contribution #3665.

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Correspondence to Sean A. Hayes.

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Hayes, S.A., Teutschel, N.M., Michel, C.J. et al. Mobile receivers: releasing the mooring to ‘see’ where fish go. Environ Biol Fish 96, 189–201 (2013).

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  • Acoustic tag
  • Mobile receiver
  • Elephant seal
  • Offshore tracking
  • Salmon