Gathering information on the behavior and movement of marine animals is an essential part of the responsibilities of our national agencies charged with protecting endangered and threatened marine species as well as providing ecosystem-based management of commercially harvested marine resources. This data and information, collected remotely via acoustic and satellite telemetry techniques, assists specifically with implementing the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Fur Seal Act, performing National Environmental Policy Act analyses, providing Incidental Harassment Authorizations and conducting Section 7 Interagency Consultations.

The data is applied broadly to assess marine animal habitat use, detect changes in their migratory routes in relation to oil & gas activities and climate variability, monitor changing movement patterns with increasing ship traffic to assist with marine mammal avoidance, and improve abundance/population estimates to ensure both the conservation and sustainable management of commercially harvested species as well as responsibly sustained subsistence livelihoods.

The multi-agency U.S. Animal Telemetry Network (ATN) has been established to provide unity, stability and continuity to the national infrastructure that facilitates the collection, management and availability of this marine animal telemetry data. To accomplish its mission, the ATN is being implemented in three Phases and on these three foundational pillars: 1) Building Alliances and Collaborations, 2) Providing Telemetry Data Aggregation, Management, Display and Delivery, and 3) Funding High Priority Regional Baseline Animal Telemetry Observations.


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.



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.


Program Documents

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)
  • ATN Coordinator Report #1 to BOEM (Download here)
  • ATN Coordinator Report #2 to BOEM (Download here)


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.


  • "Exploring New Technology Horizons." Solutions Jan. - Feb. 2011: 51-52. Mary Glackin, 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)
  • "Ocean Observations Using Tagged Animals." Oceanography 30(2):139. Roquet, F., L. Boehme, B. Block, J.-B. Charrassin, D. Costa, C. Guinet, R.G. Harcourt, M.A. Hindell, L.A. Hückstädt, C.R. McMahon, B. Woodward, and M.A. Fedak. 2017. (pdf)
  • "Animal-Borne Telemetry: an integral component of the ocean observing toolkit”, Rob Harcourt et al., Frontiers in Marine Science, 26 June 2019, (pdf)
  • "A Response to Scientific and Societal Needs for Marine Biological
    Nicholas J. Bax et al., Frontiers in Marine Science, 17 July 2019, (pdf)

Workshop Reports


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