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Performance and utility of satellite telemetry during field studies of free-ranging polar bears in Alaska

January 1, 1989

Satellite telemetry technology has been used during field studies of polar bears in Alaska since 1985. A total of 109 Platform Transmitter Terminals (PTT) have been deployed on free-ranging female polar bears that seasonally inhabit waters adjacent to the Alaskan coast. The PTTs transmitted locational and sensor data to TIROS-N polar-orbiting satellites during a duty cycle of 12 hours on/60 hours off in 1985, 1986, and 1987. Expected battery life was 13.8 months, and collars were normally removed and replaced with new or refurbished PTTs at 11-13 month intervals. Duty cycles were altered to 7-8 hours on/64-65 hours off in 1988 to prolong expected battery life to 19-21 months. Sensor data transmitted included PTT internal temperature, short term activity counts recorded at 60 second intervals, and long term activity counts for the preceding 24 or 72-hour period. Early failures of PTTs to fix location (less than 75% of expected battery life) were as high as 53% during 198501986. Subsequent improvements in battery design, including better shock insulation, improved electronic, and an improved battery system have reduced early failures to 27% in 1987-1988. The harsh environment and the degree of abuse observed in recovered collars indicate that an unavoidable failure rate of 8-10% is inherent within 60 days after deployment on polar bears. A total of 18,000 locations and 201,000 sensor messages were received from female polar bears between May 1985 and June 1988. Polar bears that were marked in Alaskan waters have been located as far south as 60°N 168°W, and as far east as 70°N 127°W in the Beaufort Sea. Polar bears in the Beaufort Sea are shared with Canada, while polar bears in the Chukchi and Bering seas are shared with the Soviet Union. The international ranges of the two hypothesized populations have been documented. Satellite telemetry has detailed the large movement patterns of polar bear over these vast areas that were previously not available using other techniques.

Publication Year 1989
Title Performance and utility of satellite telemetry during field studies of free-ranging polar bears in Alaska
Authors Gerald W. Garner, Steven C. Amstrup, David C. Douglas, Craig L. Gardner
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70189291
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center