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Satellite Tracking of Tarpon

To better understand Atlantic tarpon migratory patterns, spawning areas and population connectivity in the southeastern US and Gulf of Mexico, Jerry Ault, Ph.D. and the University of Miami have been using “pop-up” archival transmitting (PAT) tags since 2001. These space-age tags deployed on tarpon can collect and archive second-by-second data on depth of the animal, water temperatures, light levels (specific for determining location of the tagged fish), and salinity (Luo et al. 2008a,b). The tags are preprogrammed to release from the tagged fish at a specified time and date, and then pop-up to the ocean surface where they will transmit their stored summary data to an ARGOS satellite network passing overhead. Data retrieved by the satellites is then forwarded to us here on earth for analysis. The goal of the satellite PATtagging research is to define the unit stock for the Atlantic tarpon appropriate for regional fishery management, to define stock mixing, spawning and feeding migrations, and coastal ocean habitat use by tarpon.

Special Thanks to the Tarpon & Bonefish Research Center (click here)

What follows is a collection of some of the data and information of interest obtained through the satellite tagging and other research efforts on Atlantic tarpon

Summer/Fall 2014 Tagging Update

Texas 2014

We were able to tag multiple fish in Texas this Summer and Fall. We actually tagged the largest tarpon ever tagged. The fish was a short but really fat and was estimated at 200 lb fish. The link to the video is below. We placed eight total tags. Four were the SPOT tags and four were PAT tags. Three of the SPOT tags came out early. One of the SPOT tags is still in place. Below is the track information for the fish (130 lbs) that still has the SPOT tag in place (the dots way inshore are poor signal hits and are likely quite a bit off).

As of the last week of November 2014, we beleive this SPOT tag has come off in Mexico. See the map below.

A 119 lb tarpon we tagged on September 20th on the middle Texas coast was scheduled to pop-off on March 1st, but has come out early. This smaller fish has not traveled quite as far as the larger fish above.

Video of Largest Tarpon Ever Satellite Tagged on the Texas Gulf Coast - 200 lbs - Fall 2014

78 x 44 LilyBeth from marcus poffenberger on Vimeo.

Well, the tag on the 200 lb tarpon, above, came off right on schedule - December 10, 2014. Below is a map showing her location. As the data uploads, we'll provide more information.

Here is a more detailed analysis of the movement of this tarpon prior to the tag being released from the fish.

Another tarpon (tag #282) which was placed in a tarpon on the middle Texas coast in mid-October 2014 has come off on schedule on March 1, 2015. This fish was a 177 lb tarpon. The tag came off near the mouth of the River Grijalva very close to where tag #166 came off in December. Below is the location and drift history for the first few days after the tag came off.


Florida Fall 2014

Below is a track from a fish tagged this fall in Florida. He/She was about a hundred pounds and tagged in the Florida panhandle in September.

Summer 2013 Tagging Update

This particular tarpon (T-264) was a 171 pound fish (193 cm fork length, 101 cm girth) that was satellite-tagged with a SPOT5 tag near the panhandle of Florida, on May 23, 2013.

The fish began moving in what appeared to be "opposite" of the expected direction.  By May 30th, about where the graphic above picks up it's movements, the tarpon had reached the Crystal River area. It then spent about 2 weeks moving back and forth between there and the Homosassa Springs area.

The full moon was on June 23rd, noted previously by researchers to be correlated with tarpon spawning.  However, we did not receive any tag locations from June 20th to June 26th.  So, unfortunately, we have no information available to us concerning the location of this fish during this period.

On June 26th the tag communicated with the satellite network and the tarpon had moved further south reaching Boca Grande at the mouth of Charlotte Harbor.  Subsequently, the tarpon then began moving due west towards the edge of the west Florida shelf. 

We believe it is possible that this tarpon went seaward to spawn, possibly related to the moon period.  The next new moon was on July 8th.  We have data that indicate that tarpon spawn 2 days before the new moon. 

The moral of this story is that just when you thought you had it figured out, that there is ALWAYS a new wrinkle in the fascinating story of tarpon migrations, spawning and ocean habitat use.

Summer 2012 Texas Tagging Update

We were able to tag multiple fish in the Port O'Connor area in the summer for 2012l. We obtained some interesting tag results. We were able to tag some fish with SPOT Tags (which permit immediate location data). Below are some of the graphics on fish movements after tagging.

Location Data for Tag #235.

2012 Tagging Video

Florida 2012 Tag Update

Below are a couple tracks of fish tagged with SPOT tags in 2012 from Florida. They headed to Louisiana.


Fall 2010 Boca Grande Tag Results

The following are graphic displays of the tagging results for tarpon tagged in the Boca Grande, Florida area in the fall of 2010.


Nicaragua Tagging Information 2009

This particular tarpon was tagged in the San Juan river, approximately 60 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. The fish was caught in fresh water that was flowing from Lake Nicaragua to the ocean. The water in the river in this area is more fresh than Maimi tap water. The fish weighed in excess of 120 lbs. It stayed in the river a few days and then exited into the ocean. The track is below. The first part of the track where the marks are bouncing around is due to poor light attenuation and estimated locations coming from the tag and likely have some error associated with them. What you can tell from this the fish left the river and moved into the ocean traveling to Costa Rica.

Trinidad Tarpon 2007

You'll notice the tarpon traveling up the island chain from Trinidad.

Texas Tagging Tracks from 2007 and 2009

2007 - Tag #86 - Click Here to Open

2007 - PAT Tag #82a - Click Here to Open

2009 - Tag #130 - Click Here to Open

2006 Galveston PAT Tag



Mexico to Texas Early Summer Tracks from 2005 through 2008

The following are GoogleEarth files. You will need GoogleEarth on your computer. Download the file from the link, open and view in GoogleEarth.

2005 - PAT Tag #33 - Click Here to Open

2006 - PAT Tag#43 - Click Here to Open

2006 - PAT Tag#42 - Click Here to Open

2007 - PAT Tag#67a - Click Here to Open

2008 - PAT Tag #99a - Click Here to Open


General Tarpon Migratory Summary Maps

2003 and 2007


Comprehensive PAT Tagging Results 2007-2008

Additional Tag Data

Detail Data Summaries

Example of a tarpon tagged in Mexico and the daily recording of depth and temperature:


Graph of Data Obtained from Fish Tagged in Florida Keys (Notice Depth of almost 500 feet)

Daily Activity Graph

The following graph shows the average number of rolls for any given period of time. This data is distilled from over a hundred different tags.

Age/Length/Weight Graph

We get asked quite often, "How old was my tarpon?" The graph below should help you figure that out, based on weight. Tarpon never stop growing.

Remember, 1 inch = 2.54 cm and 1 pound = .45 kg. So, for example a three foot (36") long fish to the fork is 91 cm and a 110 lb fish is 50 kg.



Click to Download

2009 PAT Tag Annual Report

February 2012 PAT Tag Annual Report





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