Animal telemetry is the science of elucidating the movements and behavior of animals as they move through the world’s oceans, coastal rivers, estuaries and great lakes.  Animal telemetry devices (“tags”) yield detailed data regarding animal responses to the coupled ocean-atmosphere and physical environment through which they are moving.  This can be done in near-real time, or by use of archival tags in which the data are stored or later transmitted to an array of sensors or satellites.  Animal species tagged have ranged from 6-gram salmon smolts to 150-ton whales.  Detailed observations of animal movements and behavior in relation to critical habitats in their aquatic environment have significantly improved our understanding of ecosystem function and dynamics.  These observations are critical for sustaining populations, conserving biodiversity and developing the kinds of data required to implement ecosystem-based management.  Sensors carried by animals have recently come of age and deliver high resolution physical oceanographic data at relatively low costs.  Animals are particularly adept at helping scientists identify critical habitats, spawning locations, and important oceanographic features (e.g., fronts, eddies and upwelling areas).  They also provide important insights into regions of the oceans that are difficult and expensive to monitor (e.g., offshore environments, Arctic).  

The concepts for an Animal Telemetry Network (ATN) were developed through two workshops held in 2011 in Santa Cruz (Download a copy of the workshop report here) and 2012 in Washington D.C., and refined and reported in several publications:

  • IOOS Summit white paper ( Download here)
  • ATN Strategy and Recommendations document (Download here )
  • Animal Biotelemetry paper (Download here)
  • ATN Implementation Plan (Download here)

Animal Telemetry Observations and Applications

Benefits and beneficiaries of a national ATN include:

Providing the scientific basis for marine fisheries and protected-endangered species management.

This includes fisheries management as mandated under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, Ecosystem Based Management (EBM) as mandated under the National Ocean Policy implementation plan, and management decisions for the recovery of protected marine species, such as marine mammals, fish and turtles as mandated under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ATN will provide near real-time geospatial data integral to realistic parameterization of spatially explicit population and fishery assessment models. Such models assist with the conservation of species and the maintenance of biodiversity ensuring U.S. adherence to international agreements that provide a policy framework for effective management of trans-boundary fisheries and global oceans, such as the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Sea, the UN Fish Stocks Agreement, and the International Convention on Biological Biodiversity. (Beneficiaries: Primarily NOAA, USFWS, and state agencies as the primary agencies charged with aquatic species management in coastal waters – secondarily any other agency or researcher whose activities may impact those species).

Defining essential or critical habitats for species protected under the ESA and MMPA through the investigation of regional connectivity of marine biological resources and integration of ocean observation systems across large marine ecosystems, sanctuaries, and marine protected areas. NOAA and USFWS among other agencies will benefit from such efforts.

Providing real-time monitoring of marine fish, turtles, birds, and mammals that facilitates management of marine protected areas, identification of operational windows for construction/dredging or other industrial activities, assessing the impact of major environmental events, and the enforcement of fisheries regulations, to avoid harming sensitive stocks and to improve fisheries harvests. Beneficiaries from such data include: NOAA, NPS, NAVY, and BOEM.

Evaluating the potential effects of anthropogenic disturbances. ATN will provide the critical baseline for behavior and movement of aquatic species that will aid agencies and industry that are required to assess the impact of their activities (e.g. coastal/estuarine/riverine development, ocean thermal energy conversion and wind farm energy development, aquaculture sites, military activities, shipping, sewage treatment facilities, and marina development) under U.S. environmental regulations. Among the beneficiaries: BOEM, DOE (Bonneville Power), USFWS, NAVY, NOAA, OR&R, USACE, coastal state resource agency and private industry.

Improving coupled ocean-atmosphere observation and forecasting models.

Animal telemetry provides large volumes of oceanographic- water column profiles (temperature, conductivity, light level, oxygen, chlorophyll), and complements gliders and other autonomous vehicle products to provide unique and cost effective data from poorly sampled ocean regions. ATN real-time hydrographic data are served via the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Global Telecommunication System (GTS) to operational forecasting centers and also via ERDDAP.  These data provide increased understanding of ecosystem processes and improve predictions of future ecosystem conditions including storms, floods, drought, climatic variation and other weather. Beneficiaries: include NAVY/NAVOCEANO, NOAA/NCEP, USCG, State agencies and private industry.


Animal Telemetry Programs / Projects in North America

Animal Telemetry programs/projects in North America (yellow dots):


Coast of Maine Passive Acoustic Sensor System (CoM-PASS) 
Penobscot Telemetry Group 
Atlantic Cooperative Telemetry Network (ACT) 
Florida Atlantic Coast Telemetry Project (FACT)    
Adopt a Billfish 
Tag A Giant Foundation 


California Fish Tracking Consortium (CFTC) 
Northwest Hawaiian Islands array 
PacIOOS array 
Hawaii TunaTagging Project (HTTP)     
Large scale Census of Marine Life (COML) projects: 
Tagging of Pacific Pelagics (TOPP)  
Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking (POST)

Gulf of Mexico

Gulf of Mexico – wide Acoustic Array Network (GAAN)

Great Lakes

Great Lakes Acoustic Telemetry Observing System (GLATOS)


Alaska Animal Telemetry Ocean Observing. (AATOS) 
Internationally funded project 
Ocean Tracking Network (OTN)

Contact Information

[Coming soon]


To view, explore and download data from the ATN, visit the Data Assembly Center web portal here.

Animal Acoustic Telemetry (AAT) Metadata Convention

A complete description of this AAT convention and implementation project is posted in IOOS tech Wiki. There is also a link to the Final Version of the Metadata Convention as well Python Codes to access the data via webservices and other useful information.

AAT convention was implemented at NANOOS with a subset of  OTN/Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking database. Data are served via NANOOS ERDDAP and GEOSERVER. For more information please visit the NANOOS website.

ATN Satellite Tags

ATN real-time data are served via the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Global Telecommunication System (GTS) to operational forecasting centers and also via ERDDAP.

Animal Satellite Telemetry (AST) Metadata Convention

An International group is working to develop a metadata convention for satellite telemetry data and this may also include archival data. Groups involved in this effort include the Australian Animal Tacking and Movement System (AATAMS), the Ocean Tracking Network (OTN), and the IOC/International Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS), Animal Telemetry/Tagging manufacturers.




ATN Steering Group. Comprised of 13 members from federal government agencies and non-federal sectors, the SG has been established to provide guidance and leadership on the development and implementation of the ATN Plan in partnership with the IOOC member agencies, the IOOS Program Office, IOOS Regional Associations and regional subject matter experts.

Organizations and Partners Involved

Major customers of a national ATN include: 1) Federal and state agencies; 2) fisheries, marine mammal, sea turtle and bird conservation and management communities; 3) tribal communities; 4) the energy sector; 5) the tourism sector; 6) the general public; 7) educational institutions; 8) private industry.

Press Release

National Ocean Observing System to See Marine Animal Migration, Adaptation Strategies

Animal Tagging Audio Podcast

Explore the World of Animal Tagging Podcast

Collecting Ocean Data with Marine Mammals. Scientists are enlisting marine mammals with electronic tags to collect critical ocean data from around the nation. NOAA’s Integrated Ocean Observing System is working to standardize various tagging programs so researchers can better tap into this data stream.

Regional Animal Telemetry Program/Projects

PacIOOS, Shark project



NANOOS Salmon project

Publications and Citations

Animal Telemetry Network (ATN) Coordinator Report to BOEM, #1. Prepared by Bill Woodward, 2017. (pdf)

"Exploring New Technology Horizons." Solutions Jan.-Feb. 2011: 51-52. Mary Glakin, Tracy Rouleau, Suzanne Skelley, and Zdenka Willis (pdf).

Toward a national Animal Telemetry Observing Network (ATN) for our oceans, coasts and great lakes: workshop synthesis report (U.S. IOOS workshop, March 2011, Santa Cruz, California). Moustahfid et al. 2011. U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS, NOAA-TM-NMFS-SWFSC-482,51p. (pdf)

ATN white paper for the IOOS Summit November 2012. (pdf)