Best Practice Recommendations for the Use of External Telemetry Devices on Pinnipeds

Markus Horning, Alaska SeaLife Center
Russel D. Andrews, Marine Ecology and Telemetry Research
Amanda M. Bishop, Alaska SeaLife Center
Peter L. Boveng, NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center
Daniel P. Costa, University of California Santa Cruz
Daniel E. Crocker, Sonoma State University
Martin Haulena, Vancouver Aquarium
Mark Hindell, University of Tasmania
Allyson G. Hindle, University of Nevada Las Vegas
Rachel R. Holser, University of California Santa Cruz
Sascha K. Hooker, University of St Andrews
Luis A. Hückstädt, University of California Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz
Shawn Johnson, The Marine Mammal Center
Mary-Anne Lea, University of Tasmania
Birgitte I. McDonald, San Jose State University
Clive R. McMahon, University of Tasmania
Patrick W. Robinson, University of California Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz
Renae L. Sattler, Alaska SeaLife Center
Courtney R. Shuert, Durham University
Sheanna M. Steingass, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
Dave Thompson, University of St Andrews
Pamela A. Tuomi, Alaska SeaLife Center
Cassondra L. Williams, National Marine Mammal Foundation
Jamie N. Womble, National Park Service


Pinnipeds spend large portions of their lives at sea, submerged, or hauled-out on land, often on remote off-shore islands. This fundamentally limits access by researchers to critical parts of pinniped life history and has spurred the development and implementation of a variety of externally attached telemetry devices (ETDs) to collect information about movement patterns, physiology and ecology of marine animals when they cannot be directly observed. ETDs are less invasive and easier to apply than implanted internal devices, making them more widely used. However, ETDs have limited retention times and their use may result in negative short- and long-term consequences including capture myopathy, impacts to energetics, behavior, and entanglement risk. We identify 15 best practice recommendations for the use of ETDs with pinnipeds that address experimental justification, animal capture, tag design, tag attachment, effects assessments, preparation, and reporting. Continued improvement of best practices is critical within the framework of the Three Rs (Reduction, Refinement, Replacement); these best practice recommendations provide current guidance to mitigate known potential negative outcomes for individuals and local populations. These recommendations were developed specifically for pinnipeds; however, they may also be applicable to studies of other marine taxa. We conclude with four desired future directions for the use of ETDs in technology development, validation studies, experimental designs and data sharing.