Pelagic Predators:
By George Shillinger      Awards: Myers, Miller

George and turtleI am a Tagging of Pacific Predators (TOPP) PhD Candidate in the Block Lab of Stanford University. My research involves the application of new and different satellite tagging technologies to understand the behavior and movements of pelagic species in the Eastern Pacific. I am deploying satellite tags on Pacific leatherback sea turtles at Playa Grande, Costa Rica, on billfish (sailfish and marlin) off the coast of Panama and Costa Rica, and on sharks (Galapagos and hammerhead) at Darwin and Wolf Islands in the Galapagos.

My objective is to apply satellite tagging research and remote sensing technologies to improve the conservation and management of highly migratory pelagic predators. The tags provide critical data about animal behavior and movement, which helps to identify important breeding and feeding areas, migration corridors, and nesting and nursery habitats. These results may lead to the development of adaptive spatio-temporal MPA networks that are informed by animal tracking data and created in response to real-time oceanographic conditions. As part of the boarder TOPP initiative, the turtles, billfish, and sharks that I am tagging are working with many other species across the Pacific Ocean to help explain how environmental change influences animal behavior and movement. This tag-derived data (location, temperature, depth, etc.) provided by the sampling animals is vastly enhancing our knowledge about the oceanography of the Pacific.

Darwin's Arch Galapagos Shark with SPOT tag
Darwin's Arch in the Galapagos,
Ecuador shark tagging site
Galapagos shark in cradle with SPOT tag on dorsal fin

The data from my research is also being applied towards protected area management and zoning within the Eastern Tropical Pacific. I initiated my work at Stanford as part of collaboration with the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape initiative, a shared ecosystem management effort involving the Governments of Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador. I want my research efforts to inform new policy and management actions that will work to further the conservation of pelagic species and their habitats within this biologically rich and productive region.

Releasing giant Pacific Bluefin Tuna Turtle w/tag
Release of tagged bluefin tuna. photo by Pete Saul
Sea turtle w/ tag