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Invasive tags designed to provide information on animal movements through radio or satellite monitoring have tremendous potential for the study of whales and other cetaceans. However, to date there have been no published studies on the survival of tagged animals over periods of years or decades. Researchers from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution tracked five humpback whales with implanted radio tags in southeastern Alaska in August 1976 and July 1977, and tracked two humpback whales in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in June 1978. All seven of these individually identified humpback whales were resighted at least 20 yr after first being tagged, and five of the seven have been observed for more than 30 yr; some of them are among the most resighted humpback whales in the North Pacific. Photos of tagging sites taken during and subsequent to tagging operations show persistent but superficial scarring and no indication of infection.
These pioneering field studies demonstrated both long-term survival of the whales and the short-term effects of deploying radio tags, which at the time were larger and more invasive than those typically used today.