Deep Diving! Marine Animal Tracking

Deep Diving! Marine Animal Tracking
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Satellites have the ability to track marine animals around the world if we tag them with Global Positioning System (GPS) attachments.  As marine animals spent a lot of their time underwater, opportunities for humans on land to observe and monitor them can be quite limited. Tagging them helps scientists understand the range of different marine animals, their migratory patterns, how they use the ocean and their feeding patterns or foraging behaviours. As Earth continues to experience the effects of the climate emergency, this data can help scientists build-up a picture of how changing oceans – including warmer and more acidic waters – are impacting migrating and feeding patterns across our ocean as well as any changes in the size of marine populations.   

 Marine animals tracked using GPS devices include turtles, sharks and whales! Animals can be tagged with different kinds of trackers capable of sending data up to satellites and then back to Earth in different ways.

GPS trackers only work within a certain depth range. When animals pop up to the surface of the water, the satellites can collect data on where they are before they dive down again. For this reason, tags are often attached to animal shells or fins which break the surface of the water regularly. For animals that spend most of their life underwater, and don’t regularly surface, GPS technology can still help scientists understand animal behaviour. These animals can be fitted with a tag that’s programmed to collect and store data for a predetermined time-period – after which point the tag auto-releases from the animal and floats to the surface, at which point satellites are ready to receive the data.

In the activities outlined below, by using the reaction timers, participants can ‘be’ the satellites by recording that animals’ locations. Tapping each button as they light up is the equivalent of a satellite capturing the location of a GPS tag before the animal dives into deeper waters again. As animals may travel huge distances across the world, many satellites are needed to build a complete picture of their journeys. 

Download Kit List and Method: Deep Diving! Marine Animal Tracking Reaction Timers

Map of the world floor mat with different coloured reaction timers spread out on top of the matplushy marine animals alongside tracking game reaction timers

Learning outcomes or discussion prompts: 

– Satellites are an important tool in marine wildlife tracking and conservation efforts and help scientists understand our changing planet.
– Satellites act as part of global network to monitor changes on local and global scales
– Different kinds of GPS tracker help us gather data in different ways
– Satellite data helps us build up the big picture of the health of our planet 

This activity is part of the ASDC project Our World From SpaceOur World From Space is a two-year national STEM programme exploring the relevance of UK space science for the future health and sustainability of our home planet, funded by UK Space Agency in partnership with Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), part of UK Research and Innovation.


More information here on the ASDC website:

Our world from space project logo with image of the Earth inside a location pin