Why do satellite transmitters on emperor penguins stop transmitting?
Investigation of early transmission failure from animal-borne, satellite transmitters should reveal vital information about the reliability of the technology, and the risk of application to the animal. Current technology available to the investigator does not provide firm evidence for causes of transmitter blackout. We address the five most likely causes of satellite transmitter failure on 20 adult (10 male and 10 female) emperor penguins tagged near Cape Colbeck, Antarctica, and one near the Drygalski Ice Tongue, Western Ross Sea, during late summer, 2013. They are: 1. Technical failure of the transmitter, 2. Instrument breakage, 3. Instrument loss because of attachment failure, 4. Predation, and 5. Icing of the salt water detection switch. The longest record of 323 days suggests that prior losses were not due to power failure. Various possibilities of transmission blackout are discussed, and we speculate about the most likely causes of termination of transmissions. A loss of transmission from six tags at similar locations early in the deployments suggests predation. Later losses at random times and locations may be because of antenna breakage or attachment failure. Definite conclusions cannot be made because of the indirect assessment of transmission loss. We suggest some changes in deployment procedures to improve our ability to determine cause of satellite transmission termination in the future. Understanding causes of blackout is important both scientifically and ethically in terms of accurate data interpretation and balancing the benefits of scientific gain with the costs of animal disturbance.