Using Digital Tags With Integrated Video and Inertial Sensors to Study Moving Morphology and Associated Function in Large Aquatic Vertebrates
The anatomy of large cetaceans has been well documented, mostly through dissection of dead specimens. However, the difficulty of studying the world's largest animals in their natural environment means the functions of anatomical structures must be inferred. Recently, non-invasive tracking devices have been developed that measure body position and orientation, thereby enabling the detailed reconstruction of underwater trajectories. The addition of cameras to the whale-borne tags allows the sensor data to be matched with real-time observations of how whales use their morphological structures, such as flukes, flippers, feeding apparatuses, and blowholes for the physiological functions of locomotion, feeding, and breathing. Here, we describe a new tag design with integrated video and inertial sensors and how it can be used to provide insights to the function of whale anatomy. This technology has the potential to facilitate a wide range of discoveries and comparative studies, but many challenges remain to increase the resolution and applicability of the data. Anat Rec, 300:1935–1941, 2017.