Is acoustic tracking appropriate for air-breathing marine animals? Dugongs as a case study
Marine animals face increased pressure through expanded shipping and recreational activities. Effective conservation and management of large species like marine mammals or sea turtles depend on knowledge of movement and habitat use. Previous studies have used data collected from either satellite or acoustic telemetry but rarely both. In this study, data from satellite and acoustic technologies were used to: determine the efficacy of satellite and acoustic telemetry to define dugong movement patterns; compare the benefits and limitations of each approach; examine the costs of each approach in relation to the amount and type of data provided; and relate telemetry data to the boundaries of a Go Slow area designed to protect dugongs and turtles from vessel strike within an urbanised coastal embayment (Moreton Bay, Queensland, Australia). Twenty-one dugongs were captured in seagrass habitats on the Eastern Banks of Moreton Bay in July–September 2012 and July 2013 and fitted with GPS and acoustic transmitters. Both satellite and acoustic telemetry produced reliable presence and movement data for individual dugongs. When the dugongs were within the range of the acoustic array, there was relatively good correspondence between the overall space use measures derived from GPS and acoustic transmitters, demonstrating that acoustic tracking is a potentially valuable and cost-effective tool for monitoring local dugong habitat use in environments equipped with acoustic receiver arrays. Acoustic technology may be particularly useful for species that establish home ranges with stable residency especially near large urban or port environs. However, the relative merits of the two technologies depend on the research question in the context of the species of interest, the location of the study and whether the study site has an established acoustic array.