For many years the only way to track wildlife was to simply follow and observe the movement and habits of an animal or to capture an animal and put a tag on it and hope that at sometime in the future that same animal would be recaptured. Today, scientists have new tools to help them determine how animals move and how they use their environment.
Tracking with Technology
Radio tracking technology can help determine exactly where an animal is at any moment in time and often what that animal is doing! Using the data collected from tracking devices, scientists can determine the day-to-day movements of an animal, the size of an animal's home range, what other animals share an animal's range and the types of habitats an animal uses. By analyzing all this data, scientists can learn new ways to help control animal populations, determine what impact development might have on an animal population, and determine if there are enough individuals of a particular species in an area to allow for reproduction.
VHF Radio Tracking
Scientists have been using VHF radio tracking since 1963. In order to use VHF radio tracking, a radio transmitter is placed on the animal. Usually, the animal is first sedated. While the animal is asleep, the scientists gather information about the health and condition of the animal.
Satellite tracking is similar to VHF radio tracking, but instead of a radio signal being sent to a radio receiver a signal is sent to a satellite. With satellite tracking, scientists don't have to be near the animal to pick up its signal. They can track the animal using a computer! This loggerhead turtle is heading out to sea, but scientists will be able to track its movements using the signal the transmitter on its back sends to a satellite. Its a lot easier tracking a loggerhead this way than by swimming after it!
GPS tracking is the newest technology being used to track wildlife. In GPS tracking, a radio receiver, not a transmitter, is placed on the animal. The radio receiver picks up signals from special satellites. The receiver has a computer that then calculates the location and movement of the animal. The data gathered by the receiver is then sent to another set of satellites. The second set of satellites then sends the data to the scientists.