Drag of suction cup tags on swimming animals: modeling and measurement

K. Alex Shorter*, Mark M. Murray, Mark Johnson, Michael Moore, Laurens E. Howle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Bio-logging tags are widely used to study the behavior and movements of marine mammals with the tacit assumption of little impact to the animal. However, tags on fast-swimming animals generate substantial hydrodynamic forces potentially affecting behavior and energetics adversely, or promoting early removal of the tag. In this work, hydrodynamic loading of three novel tag housing designs are compared over a range of swimming speeds using computational fluid dynamics (CFD). Results from CFD simulation were verified using tag models in a water flume with close agreement. Drag forces were reduced by minimizing geometric disruptions to the flow around the housing, while lift forces were reduced by minimizing the frontal cross-sectional area of the housing and holding the tag close to the attachment surface. Hydrodynamic tag design resulted in an experimentally measured 60% drag force reduction in 5.6 m/s flow. For all housing designs, off-axis flow increased the magnitude of the force on the tag. Experimental work with a common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) cadaver indicates that the suction cups used to attach the types of tags described here provide sufficient attachment force to resist failure to predicted forces at swimming speeds of up to 10 m/s.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)726-746
Number of pages21
JournalMarine Mammal Science
Issue number2
Early online date12 Nov 2013
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014


  • Bio-logging
  • CFD
  • Hydrodynamic tag design
  • Suction cups
  • Performance
  • Penguins
  • Behavior
  • Devices
  • Whales
  • Sea
  • Cetaceans
  • Telemetry
  • Surfaces
  • Speed


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