The scientific objective of Ocean Tracking Network is to better understand changing ocean dynamics and their impact on ocean ecosystems, animal ecology, and oceans resources, with the aim of addressing critical issues in resource management and implications for ocean governance.

To achieve the aims of OTN, a conceptual framework of scientific questions has been established to strategically align the related research activities within that framework and to inform ocean governance. The research questions being addressed across OTN will be broadly structured around three major integrated “framework questions” (FQs), under which projects will be organized and coordinated. Many activities will relate to more than one FQ.

Additional scientific activities will be structured under four major “cross-cutting activities”. CCAs are activities that cut across two or more FQs and/or projects and sub-projects, which include methodologies and approaches that can inform the three FQs.

This overall organization ensures a conceptual understanding of how projects are interrelated, illustrates how these can be most effectively integrated across the Network to best address OTN’s mission, and allows rapid dissemination to interested parties of all individual research projects and programs.

Framework Questions Table

Framework Question 1: How do oceanographic and environmental features (both physical andbiological) affect animal habitat use, movement and migrations?The main objectives of this framework question and its associated projects are to understand valued or keystone species in marine ecosystems, and species at risk, and how their movements change in relation to oceanographic features and variability. Many animals are dependent upon extensive movements through the ocean, ranging from simple drifting to annual migrations to reach highly productive sites for feeding (growth), and/or reproduction and to reduce predation risk. Understanding movements and migrations—and the physical and biological conditions that drive them—is crucial to conservation, sustainable development, and prediction of how animal distribution patterns will alter with climate variability and change.


Framework Question 2: How do aquatic species interactions and areas of ecological significance relate to habitat use, movement patterns, and biotic/abiotic features?The primary aims of projects relating to this FQ are to expand knowledge of predator and prey distributions in time and space in relation to ocean characteristics and to test hypotheses concerning predator and other impacts on prey populations, including economically important commercial fish stocks. Predators are widely acknowledged to be sensitive indicators of ecosystem change, as they respond rapidly to changes in the distributions and abundance of their lower order prey. The spatial and temporal characteristics of foraging by predators and competition between species play important roles in determining trophic interactions and structuring ecosystems. Because top predators are often large, long-lived and geographically wide-ranging, they integrate the cumulative effects of changes in ecosystem structure and functioning over a range of spatial and temporal scales. Through the use of newly developing technology driven by OTN’s scientific questions, predators themselves can act as “bioprobes” to sample their ecosystems and also provide information on interactions with other tagged organisms.


Framework Question 3: How do anthropogenic activities and development influence aquatic animal behaviour and ecology?Research related to this FQ aims to better understand the direct and indirect effects of anthropogenic activities and infrastructure on animal populations and their movements, migrations and habitat use and survival, in the face of changing ocean environments. Many human activities impact marine animals and their movements, distribution and survival, both directly and indirectly. Examples include harvesting and discarding, and their impact on food webs and functional relationships, habitat alteration, aquaculture, pollution, ship traffic, advent of alternative power sources such as tidal power plants, and ocean acidification and climate changes including loss of sea ice.


Cross-Cutting Activity 1: Assimilating animal tracking data with coastal and offshore oceanographic models.Models of the three dimensional, time-varying ocean have a critical role to play in understanding the movement and distribution of marine animals, and also projecting how they will change with warming climate. Such models are used to fill in the gaps between geographically sparse ocean observations, and also extrapolate to locations and times (e.g., the future) for which observations are not available. Used in this way, models can transform point OTN observations (e.g., detection of a fish crossing a line of acoustic receivers, measurement of temperature and salinity from a glider) into products that can be used for practical applications such as ecosystem-based management and the setting of marine policy. This CCA spans different species, geographic regions and disciplines and leads to results that will impact management and policy.


Cross-Cutting Activity 2: Visualization and modeling of complex aquatic and marine observations.This activity addresses the rapidly growing and critical need for visualization and modeling tools that will allow us to deal effectively with OTN (and other) tracking data and the ensuing large complex data sets that will arise as we begin to link oceanographic features with animal migrations and movements. The growing data warehouse that OTN has created to house and link tracking data across the globe will be useful here. A new International Visualization and Modeling Team being developed out of the OTN Canada Network (arising out of the initial Bioprobe work and beyond) will form an important nexus for this activity and will also begin to draw on the OTN’s international network of scientists, especially from the USA, Australia and South Africa, where expertise currently exists. The visualization and modeling tools developed will be shared with the Canadian and international tracking community with the vision to eventually establish a distributed international Aquatic Animal Telemetry Centre of Excellence (AATCE, pronounced “At Sea”) and to build ever-increasing membership from the international OTN community.


Cross-Cutting Activity 3: Advancing animal tracking technology and tagging techniques.Although OTN Canada already employs cutting-edge technology, it also uses the needs of its investigators to drive collaborative R & D into new technology and the innovative use of the technology to permit scientists to answer next-generation questions. Thus a key activity of OTN nationally and internationally, relevant to all FQs and CCAs, must be a continued focus on technological advances, refinement of techniques in animal tagging including the development of best practices for animal capture and tagging, receiver array placement, improvement of line efficiencies, and development of completely new products. It builds on Canada’s technological stronghold and leadership in this field and fosters international collaborations with industry and scientists. Examples of such advances to date include miniaturization of archival tags to study smaller animals, transmitter and receiver integration into a tag that allows large marine animals to act as roaming open-ocean receivers that can upload data via satellite, creation of small transmitter-receiver tags that facilitate research into animal-animal interactions (e.g. schooling behaviour), and development of autonomous underwater vehicles to patrol receiver arrays and download stored information via acoustic modems thereby substantially reducing costs of ship time.


Cross-Cutting Activity 4: Policy, stakeholders and mechanisms for feeding into outreach and management; cooperation of natural and social scientists.The new knowledge generated by OTN Canada researchers will inform a number of pressing legal and social issues. Additionally, the technological innovations have the potential to significantly change the ways local, national, and international management systems are implemented, generating more effective and sustainable coastal and ocean governance. OTN Canada findings will be articulated through publications of modeling tools made available to, and informed by, fisheries managers and stakeholders, with aims such as to provide harvest management “prescriptions” that are consistent with the logistic and regulatory constraints of fisheries. The objectives under this CCA are to examine the adequacy of existing laws, management policies, socioeconomic patterns, and harvesting practices for protecting marine species, with a particular emphasis on those at risk or which are keystone species in their ecosystem, and to suggest ways to weave a stronger, more successful protective net informed by increasing scientific information.