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Conservation Physiology

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accelerometry, Arctic, behaviour, cetacean, handling response




Animal-borne telemetry devices have become a popular and valuable means for studying the cryptic lives of cetaceans. Evaluating the effect of capture, handling and tagging procedures remains largely unassessed across species. Here, we examine the effect of capture, handling and tagging activities on an iconic Arctic cetacean, the narwhal (Monodon monoceros), which has previously been shown to exhibit an extreme response to extended capture and handling. Using accelerometry-derived metrics of behaviour, including activity level, energy expenditure and swimming activity, we quantify the post-release responses and time to recovery of 19 individuals following capture and tagging activities considering the intrinsic covariates of sex and individual size and the extrinsic covariates of handling time and presence of a 'bolt-on' satellite telemetry device. From accelerometer-derived behaviour, most narwhals appeared to return to mean baseline behaviour (recovery) within 24 hours after release, which was supported by longer-Term measures of diving data. None of the covariates measured, however, had an effect on the time individuals took to recover following release. Using generalized additive models to describe changes in behaviour over time, we found handling time to be a significant predictor of activity levels, energy expenditure and swimming behaviour following release. Individuals held for the longest period (>40 min) were found to display the largest effect in behaviour immediately following release with respect to swimming behaviour and activity levels. We also found some support for relationships between activity levels, energy expenditure and swimming activity and two other covariates: sex and the attachment of a bolt-on configuration satellite tags. Our results indicate that narwhals recover relatively quickly following capture, handling and tagging procedures, but we suggest that researchers should minimize handling time and further investigation is needed on how to mitigate potential effects of bolt-on satellite tags in these sensitive species.



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.