From 1983 to 2019, Dr. Bruce Mate led the Marine Mammal Institute's Whale Telemetry Group (WTG). The WTG 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 tagged more than 500 whales from 11 different species. This work 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 focused on endangered whale species whose distribution, movements, and critical habitats (feeding, breeding, and migration areas) are unknown for much of the year. Decision makers have used this valuable information to manage human activities that may jeopardize the recovery of endangered whale populations.
The objectives of the WTG’s telemetry studies were 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.
In 2020, the Whale Habitat, Ecology, and Telemetry Laboratory was created to build upon this legacy.