BACKGROUND: Detailed information about animal location and movement is often crucial in studies of natural behaviour and how animals respond to anthropogenic activities. Dead-reckoning can be used to infer such detailed information, but without additional positional data this method results in uncertainty that grows with time. Combining dead-reckoning with new Fastloc-GPS technology should provide good opportunities for reconstructing georeferenced fine-scale tracks, and should be particularly useful for marine animals that spend most of their time under water.

We developed a computationally efficient, Bayesian state-space modelling technique to estimate humpback whale locations through time, integrating dead-reckoning using on-animal sensors with measurements of whale locations using on-animal Fastloc-GPS and visual observations. Positional observation models were based upon error measurements made during calibrations.

RESULTS: High-resolution 3-dimensional movement tracks were produced for 13 whales using a simple process model in which errors caused by water current movements, non-location sensor errors, and other dead-reckoning errors were accumulated into a combined error term. Positional uncertainty quantified by the track reconstruction model was much greater for tracks with visual positions and few or no GPS positions, indicating a strong benefit to using Fastloc-GPS for track reconstruction. Compared to tracks derived only from position fixes, the inclusion of dead-reckoning data greatly improved the level of detail in the reconstructed tracks of humpback whales. Using cross-validation, a clear improvement in the predictability of out-of-set Fastloc-GPS data was observed compared to more conventional track reconstruction methods. Fastloc-GPS observation errors during calibrations were found to vary by number of GPS satellites received and by orthogonal dimension analysed; visual observation errors varied most by distance to the whale.

CONCLUSIONS: By systematically accounting for the observation errors in the position fixes, our model provides a quantitative estimate of location uncertainty that can be appropriately incorporated into analyses of animal movement. This generic method has potential application for a wide range of marine animal species and data recording systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number31
Number of pages16
JournalMovement Ecology
Publication statusPublished - 21 Sept 2015


  • Megaptera novaeangliae
  • Marine mammal
  • Positioning
  • Fine-scale movement
  • State-space model
  • Bio-logging
  • Track reconstruction
  • Archival tag
  • Focal follow


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