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Whale Telemetry Group (WTG)

The Marine Mammal Institute's Whale Telemetry Group (WTG) has pioneered the development of satellite-monitored radio tags to study the movements, critical habitats, and dive characteristics of free-ranging whales and dolphins around the world. Since the first deployment of a satellite tag on a humpback whale off Newfoundland, Canada, in 1986, the WTG has tagged a total of 462 whales from 11 different species. This work has led to the discovery of previously unknown migration routes and seasonal distribution (wintering and summering areas), as well as descriptions of diving behavior.

The WTG primarily focuses on endangered whale species whose distribution, movements, and critical habitats (feeding, breeding, and migration areas) are unknown for much of the year. Decision makers use this valuable information to manage human activities that may jeopardize the recovery of endangered whale populations.

The objectives of the WTG’s telemetry studies are to: (1) identify whale migration routes; (2) identify specific feeding and breeding grounds, if unknown; (3) characterize local whale movements and dive habits in both feeding and breeding grounds, and during migration; (4) examine the relationships between whale movements/dive habits and prey distribution, time of day, geographic location, or physical and biological oceanographic conditions; (5) provide surfacing-rate information that can be useful in the development of more accurate abundance estimations, or assessing whales’ reactions to human disturbance; (6) characterize whale vocalizations; and (7) characterize sound pressure levels to which whales are exposed.

News and Events

Where the world's oceans are the laboratory

Bruce Mate tagged his first whale 35 years ago using a primitive dart emitting a VHF signal that could be heard a whopping 5 miles away—if the weather wasn’t stormy that day. Fellow scientists thought he was a bit touched in the head for thinking a tag attached to a migrating whale would survive the saltwater pounding.

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Mystery of 'ocean quack sound' solved

A new paper, co-authored by MMI's Ari Friedlaender, reveals that the mysterious "bio-duck" sound that has stumped researchers for decades belongs to Antarctic minke whales.

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Scientists spot rare blue whales off New Zealand coast

Rare blue whales have been spotted by NIWA scientists on a research expedition in the South Taranaki Bight.  NIWA marine ecologist Dr Leigh Torres is leading a team of blue whale researchers in the Bight on a journey that aims to collect critical data to enhance understanding of the blue whale population in the region. In the past week, the team has observed nearly 50 blue whales.

The Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute is a collaborating sponsor of this research. Dr. Torres will be joining the MMI faculty in spring 2014.

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