Passive acoustic tracking of the three-dimensional movements and acoustic behaviour of toothed whales in close proximity to static nets

Jamie MacAulay*, Al Kingston, Alex Coram, Michael Oswald, Rene Swift, Doug Gillespie, Simon Northridge

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
10 Downloads (Pure)


1. Entanglement in net fisheries (static and drift) is the largest known cause of direct anthropogenic mortality to many small cetacean species, including harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), in UK waters. Despite this, little is known about the behaviour of small cetaceans in proximity to nets.
2. We have developed a passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) system for tracking the fine-scale three-dimensional (3D) movements of echolocating cetaceans around actively fishing nets by localising their acoustic clicks. The system consists of two compact four-channel acoustic recorders with sample-synchronised sensor packages that use 3D motion tracking technology to accurately calculate log orientation, depth, water temperature and ambient light level. Two recorders were used in tandem, with each one attached to and floating above the net floatline. The system can be deployed during normal fishing operations by a trained researcher or experienced fisheries observer. Recordings were analysed in PAMGuard software and the 3D positions of echolocating animals in the vicinity of the system were calculated using an acoustic particle filter-based localisation method.
3. We present findings from four deployments in UK waters (each 1–2 days in duration) in which 12 distinct harbour porpoise encounters yielded a sufficient number of detected clicks to track their movements around the net. The tracks show a variety of behaviours, including multiple instances of animals actively foraging in close proximity to the fishing net.
4. We show that a relatively inexpensive PAM system, which is practical to deploy from active fishing vessels, is capable of providing highly detailed data on harbour porpoise behaviour around nets. As harbour porpoises are the one of the most difficult species to localise, this methodology is likely to be suitable for elucidating the behaviour of many other toothed whale species in a variety of situations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number13828
Pages (from-to)1250-1264
Number of pages15
JournalMethods in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number6
Early online date23 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2022


  • Acoustic localisation
  • Bycatch
  • Gill net
  • Harbour porpoise
  • Passive acoustic monitoring


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