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#Science

Tracking flight of the Northern Gannet in realtime

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A new and experimental project dubbed ‘Track a Gannet’, or T.A.G. for short has been launched in the UK that offers a unique and unrivalled insight into the lifecycle of Britain’s largest native seabird, the Northern Gannet, by putting them under surveillance using the 3G mobile network. The project is jointly run by Britain’s smallest Wildlife Trust, the Alderney Wildlife Trust (AWT), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the University of Liverpool.

Alderney’s Gannet populations are the most southerly in the British Isles. Northern Gannets are identified as an ‘Amber listed’ in the Birds of Conservation Concern 3 (Joint Nature Conservation Committee), and perhaps one of the most charismatic of British breeding seabirds.

Tracking of the Gannets is done by fitting prototype GPS tags which have been developed by the BTO and the Universities of East Anglia and Lisbon and transmit data in near real time. The devices were attached to the tail feathers of 20 Northern Gannets by a team of researchers and connect the birds with any 3G enabled mobile network they come into contact with, at which time the tags download the track of where the birds have been.

The tags transmit the flight paths of the Gannets to the www.teachingthroughnature.co.uk/t-a-g website which updates every time a bird comes within range of the European 3G network. The website offers the most ‘real time’ form of monitoring ever attempted on birds at sea.

The same webpage also has a live streaming GannetCam webcam which is situated on the Ortac Gannet colony. The webcam enables both scientists and the public to get a much more detailed glimpse into the birds’ behaviour within their colony.

Simon King OBE, The Wildlife Trusts’ President, said “By using real time 3G mobile transmitters T.A.G gives a stunningly detailed look into the life of perhaps the most extra-ordinary British bird, the northern gannet. This project gives everyone a chance to follow the unfolding soap opera of life within a gannetry and then to follow the birds as they leave their nests, travelling hundreds of kilometres to forage for their chicks. It really is incredible!”

In fact, several of the birds with tags on are nesting in front of the camera and can therefore be followed live both through the transmitters and the camera.

Some unique features of T.A.G

  • T.A.G is the first time 3G live tracking has been used on seabirds and is a world first for ‘real time’ tracking of a seabird being available to the general public.
  • T.A.G is delivering daily discoveries into the vital importance of the English Channel to these birds as they fish over vast areas. The maximum track for a single trip recorded since the tags were enabled on the 8th June is in excess 800km.
  • Data collected from the tags will be vitally important in understanding the potential impacts of off-shore developments in the English Channel and will be used to respond to a variety of development issues.