Best Practice Recommendations

paper_in_a_nutshell_1This nutshell is based on a recently published paper:

Best practice recommendations for the use of fully implanted telemetry devices in pinnipeds. Markus Horning, Martin Haulena, Pamela A. Tuomi, Jo-Ann E. Mellish, Caroline E. Goertz, Kathleen Woodie, Rachel K. Berngartt, Shawn Johnson, Courtney R. Shuert, Kristen A. Walker, John P. Skinner and Peter L. Boveng.
Animal Biotelemetry 2017;5:13.

Why do we need ‘best practice’ recommendations? 

Modern, high-tech telemetry devices have enabled a wealth of research projects that can provide critical data for management and conservation of marine living resources, especially on species that occupy remote areas. Telemetry devices that are externally carried by their hosts rarely remain attached for more than one year, particularly on animals that molt on a regular basis. They can also affect the cost of locomotion, thermoregulation, behavior, they can alter detectability and increase predation risk, and they can result in entanglements. Implanted devices can help address these problems and can also allow the use of additional sensors. However, implantation usually requires a surgical procedure under anesthesia, and implants can potentially have both immediate and long lasting negative effects on their hosts if not properly applied. How can we mitigate the risks associated with anesthesia, surgery, and tags?

BP_paper-nutshell_blog-A (2)
Abdominal implantation surgery is being conducted under standard, aseptic procedures utilizing sterile instruments, surgical garb and isoflurane gas for general anesthesia. A harbor seal is placed on its back onto an insulated, elevated table and the surgical area is covered in a sterile drape with an opening. The seal is intubated for application of the anesthetic and is provided with ventilation (mechanical breathing assistance). The portable surgical unit is heated. The surgical team consists of a veterinary surgeon, a sterile assistant and a non-sterile anesthetist. A gas-sterilized telemetry transmitter (in this example an LHX tag) is rinsed and inserted through a ventral midline incision that is subsequently sutured shut with multiple layers of self-dissolving, antibacterial-coated suture material (© Markus Horning, pursuant to NMFS permit no. 19309, AUP A/NW2016-1).

There are accepted guidelines and recommendations for conducting responsible research in an ethical manner, but few are specific to wild animals, and even fewer to the use of external or internal telemetry devices. Our new paper reviews what the wildlife research community has learned in more than 30 years of work with implanted devices, so that we can optimize the process of using such tags. In a way, gained knowledge is synthesized into a description of the ‘state of the art’. This information is important in designing and implementing studies, and is useful for regulators in evaluating projects.


What information did we synthesize to describe the state of the art?

We reviewed over 100 publications including existing recommendations on ethical animal research, societal guidelines for research on wild animals, reports from working groups on refinements in telemetry procedures. We included select papers from the biomedical research field. We also considered many original telemetry studies on birds and aquatic mammals (including 16 papers from tagging studies we conducted or participated in), as well as several published meta-analyses of telemetry projects. In order to follow ‘best practice’ in developing our recommendations (it may seem funny, but there are indeed many publications on the best practice in developing best practices), we placed particular emphasis on published specific observations, data-based findings and supported conclusions, over more informal reports or anecdotally described ‘accepted’ practice. In developing our recommendations, we also considered The Three Rs (Refinement, Reduction and Replacement) – generally accepted principles for improving animal research. Our recommendations are specific to ‘fully implanted tags’ (FITs) as opposed to partially implanted or transdermal tags, though some could apply to other tags.


A responsible way to use implanted telemetry devices

We are hoping that this paper will help scientists, sponsors and regulators in developing and considering these studies. However, we also want to caution all parties to avoid creating a ‘catch 22’. We can’t conduct some critically important studies without a certain amount of risk. We therefore recommend a cautious, step-wise approach that initially validates such techniques for specific tags on specific species using a small sample size, and then gradually steps up the effort if there are no contra-indications.

Here is a selection of our own implant and assessment studies (link = Open Access):

Best practice recommendations for the use of fully implanted telemetry devices in pinnipeds. Animal Biotelemetry 2017;5:13.

· Intraperitoneal implantation of life-long telemetry transmitters in three rehabilitated harbor seal pups. 2017. BMC Veterinary Research 13:139. (see this Paper in a nutshell)

·  The Effect of Novel Research Activities on Long-term Survival of Temporarily Captive Steller Sea Lions (Eumetopias jubatus). 2015. PLoS ONE 10(11):e0141948.

· In cold blood: evidence of Pacific sleeper shark (Somniosus pacificus) predation on Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) in the Gulf of Alaska. 2014. Fishery Bulletin 112:297-310.

· Predation on an Upper Trophic Marine Predator, the Steller Sea Lion: Evaluating High Post-weaning mortality in a Density Dependent Conceptual Framework. 2012. PLoS ONE 7(1):e30173.

· Spatially explicit detection of predation on individual pinnipeds from implanted post-mortem satellite data transmitter. 2009. Endangered Species Research 10:135-143.

· Monitoring glucocorticoid response to rehabilitation and research procedures in California and Steller sea lions. 2008. Journal of Experimental Zoology. Part A, Ecological Genetics and Physiology. 309(2):73-82.

· Physiological and behavioral response to intra-abdominal transmitter implantation in Steller sea lions. 2007. J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol. 351:283-293.

· Temporary captivity as a research tool: comprehensive study of wild pinnipeds under controlled conditions. 2006. Aquatic Mammals 32:58-65.

·The team: Markus is ASLC Science Director and co-developer of LHX implant tags, Marty is lead veterinarian at the Vancouver Aquarium and together with Pam (senior veterinarian at ASLC) developed the LHX tag implant surgeries; Carrie and Kathy (both ASLC veterinarians), Rachel (private practice vet) and Shawn (senior vet at The Marine Mammal Center) have all conducted many implant surgeries on seals, sea lions, sea otters and sea birds; Jo-Ann (now with NPRB) was co-PI on many LHX projects with Markus; Courtney (now a PhD student at Durham University in the UK), Kristen (now assistant professor in Animal Welfare at UBC) and John (now wildlife biologist at ADF&G), as well as Jo and Markus have all conducted tag impact assessment studies, and Peter (NMFS) is leading a harbor seal project that included LHX tag deployments and ongoing impact studies.

Written by: Dr. Markus Horning


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