July 2020
This is the final report for POP2019-01: Investigation of electronic device options to assess distribution, diving and foraging behaviour of Hector's dolphin


Previous research programmes on tagging of Hector’s dolphins have demonstrated that electronic tagging can aid in investigating important aspects of biology and ecology, which is also supported by many international tagging programmes on other cetacean species reviewed in this report. While both these New Zealand studies had relatively small sample sizes, the researchers concluded that Hector’s dolphins are suitable candidates for satellite telemetry studies and that the risk to this species from capture, handling and tagging appears low. Unfortunately, neither of these projects included a comprehensive follow-up research programme and so there is little scientific literature available from which to assess any potential short- or longer-term impacts on tagged animals.

This report identifies several general research areas that could be addressed by tagging and provides recommendations for the tagging methods that can best address these different research areas. It is important that any proposed research project is carefully evaluated against specific research questions in any future study to ensure that appropriate methods and tagging techniques can be selected. It will be necessary to consider a wide range of issues well in advance in order to confirm that the chosen method can deliver required outcomes for a specific research question. These include issues such as sample size, animal welfare, cost, and considerations of accuracy and precision of data but, just as important, are considering public and Treaty Partner views.

There are a wide variety of electronic tag types and attachment methods suitable for Hector’s dolphins, all of which have different advantages and disadvantages, and can be used to answer a diverse range of potential research questions. A range of recommendations about the best tagging method to address each area of research is provided, but it is not possible to determine the optimal tagging programme unless there is a specific research question and the relative weighting of potential competing considerations (e.g. tag retention vs animal welfare vs sample size vs cost) are stated. Nevertheless, as a general rule, the higher the quality and quantity of data produced, the higher the impact on individual dolphins.

Publication information

Childerhouse, S., Johnson, O. 2020. POP2019-01 Electronic devices to assess distribution, diving and foraging behaviour of Hector's dolphins. Prepared for the Conservation Services Programme, Department of Conservation. Cawthron Report No. 3512. 63 p.


Conservation Services Programme
Department of Conservation
PO Box 10-420
Wellington 6143


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