Novel digital device is used to help prevent boat collisions with manatees


Despite regulations designed to prevent collisions, dozens of manatees are injured or killed each year by boats in the waters around Florida. Searching for better ways to protect this endangered species, a team of researchers from Florida turned to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for help in understanding how the animals behave underwater.

Douglas Nowacek, a biological oceanographer from Florida State University and graduate of theMIT/WHOI graduate program, called on some of his Woods Hole colleagues to adapt their digital acoustic recording tags (D-tags) for tracking the slow-moving “sea cows.” Developed for use on whales, the D-tag is designed to temporarily stick to an animal’s skin and record its movements—along with the sounds they make and hear underwater. WHOI engineers Tom Hurst and Mark Johnson had to customize new tags, which would not adhere to the manatees’ whisker-covered skin, so that they could be belted harmlessly around the mammal’s tail. Through the use of the D-tags, researchers were able to observe how the manatees react—or don’t react—to oncoming boats, while also learning about how and when they dive, communicate, and feed.

Ten manatees in Lemon Bay were tracked with D-tags this year, with more studies planned for 2008. Johnson and Hurst are also working to adapt their instruments for use with dolphins, harbor porpoises, and larger whales.

Related Links
» Put the D-tag on the Manatee
» Douglas Nowacek Labratory at Florida State University
» Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Manatee Program
» Playing Tag with Whales