Research Methods


ARGOS Satellite Tracking
The project goal is to follow rehabilitated manatees living in Florida by satellite tracking using the ARGOS system. Service ARGOS is a cooperative venture under the joint management of France's Center of National Space Studies and the United States of America's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The purpose of ARGOS is to allow citizens to remotely collect environmental data on a wide range of subjects, including: meteorology, oceanography, and animal ecology.
To track each manatee a special transmitter placed in a waterproof container is attached by a tether to the manatee's tail. The towed transmitter broadcasts to a receiver placed on low-flying (525 miles altitude), polar orbiting Tiros-N satellites (currently NOAA-D, J, H, K and L). A computer on the satellite records signals from the transmitters during each overpass. The satellite, in turn, relays the manatee data to Earth-based listening stations where ARGOS computers determine the location of the manatee. Finally, the locations are sent to the project scientists via the Internet. The locations of the manatees are accurate to about 0.6 mile.
In addition to location information, the manatee transmitters also record, and relay to the scientists via the ARGOS satellite link, information concerning the manatees' diving behavior (dive number and dive duration), local water temperature, and the transmitter's battery status.
Satellite overpasses occur in Florida about 15 times per day, each pass lasting about 12 to 15 minutes. In order to conserve transmitter batteries, some transmitters are programmed to broadcast only eight hours per day, and others broadcast for eight hours every other day. As a result, two to six locations are received per broadcast day. Each day the scientists enter the data sent to them by ARGOS into a computer database and prepare animal tracking maps.
Attachment of Satellite Transmitters
The radio tracking component of the project was initiated in February 2002 with the tagging of six manatees.
Manatees remain submerged except when they briefly surface for air, and on rare occasions they stick their head and shoulders out of the water when feeding. However, it is not uncommon for them to be within six feet of the surface, and since it is necessary for the radio's antenna to be out of the water when transmitting, the transmitter's canister is designed to be buoyant with the antenna sticking above the water surface whenever the manatee is within six feet of the surface. The photo shown here (courtesy of the Sirenia Project) depicts how the transmitter's antenna protrudes when the tagged manatee travels or floats near the water surface.
Mapping updates for tagged animals are available in Manatee Updates.