Obscure sea turtle tracking data from India used to explain ‘disappearing’ eagles in Monadhliaths

SCAlogoA couple of weeks ago we blogged about the ‘disappearance’ of eight young satellite-tagged golden eagles on grouse moors in the Monadhliath Mountains of Highland Scotland (see here).

Keen to deflect attention away from the most likely suspects, the grouse-shooting industry claimed that windfarms were probably to blame – a claim that was easily debunked when it became apparent those windfarms didn’t actually exist (see here). Still, it made a change from them suggesting that trees are the biggest threat to golden eagles in Scotland (see here).

Now they’ve come up with another excuse but once again, it’s poorly researched and relies upon their assumption that nobody will bother checking their claimed ‘facts’.

Have a read of this press statement from the Scottish Countryside Alliance (SCA). Hilariously, the SCA suggests that ‘finger pointing at the shooting community, based on no evidence, must be resisted‘.

UPDATE: Here’s a screen grab of the SCA’s statement as it seems to have ‘disappeared’ from the SCA website:

scottish countryside alliance morons

No evidence? Good grief. Try this, thisthis, this, and, particularly pertinent to the Monadhliaths, try this (where a young gamekeeper on Moy Estate was found to have a jar containing four eagle leg rings that had previously been attached to young golden eagles)!

However, that’s not what this blog is about. What particularly interested us about this SCA statement was the following:

Contrary to claims that transmitters are reliable, research papers published in 2013 studied three decades of wildlife radio telemetry and concluded that failure rates could be as high as 49%“.

Gosh! A failure rate of 49% does seem high! That MUST be the most plausible explanation for the ‘disappearance’ of these eight golden eagles (and all the other satellite-tagged raptors that have ‘disappeared’ over grouse moors during the last ten years), right? These tags are failing left, right and centre and it’s nothing more sinister than that, right?

Naturally, we wanted to read these recently published research papers but tellingly, the SCA hadn’t provided any references. After a bit of digging, it becomes apparent why they were so reluctant to reveal their source. Fortunately (for us), those scientific heavyweights at Countryman’s Weekly helped us out and pointed us to this:

Three decades of wildlife radio telemetry in India A Review_2014

As the paper’s title suggests, this is a review of wildlife radio telemetry studies that have been undertaken in India between 1983-2013.

It’s an interesting paper (if you’re planning to use telemetry to study animal taxa in India) but what relevance it has to satellite-tag reliability on golden eagles in Highland Scotland is a bit of a mystery to us, especially when you realise that many of the studies refer to radio-tagging (as opposed to satellite-tagging) of mammals (including Asiatic elephants, Asiatic lions, tigers) and reptiles (gharials, turtles). Of 82 studies reviewed, only 14 involve birds.

If you look at Table 8 (showing the known cause of tag failures), of 72 (radio & satellite) tags (across all taxa) where ‘contact was lost’ or there was an ‘unknown failure’, the vast majority (68) appear to relate to tags that had been attached to Olive Ridley Turtles. If you then have a look at this paper (‘Why do Argos satellite tags deployed on marine animals stop transmitting?‘), you’ll see that the failure of the salt-water switch is an on-going issue. Quite how this issue can be the cause of ‘failing’ satellite tags on golden eagles in the Monadhliaths is beyond our comprehension. Perhaps the Scottish Government’s planned review of golden eagle satellite data will shed some light. But perhaps not.

24 thoughts on “Obscure sea turtle tracking data from India used to explain ‘disappearing’ eagles in Monadhliaths”

  1. Somebody tweet this to @voice_rural!
    (I can’t, he blocked me when I challenged his wind turbine claims :-D )

    1. Don’t waste time on Andy; he’s an irrelevance. He is reviled by the majority of shooters. Spend the time more constructively!

  2. I think this is one of the funniest things I have read on here (not that raptor persecution is much fun). You have to thank the SCA for keeping us entertained. If only they wouldn’t keep us busier in other, graver, matters.

  3. You’re spot on when you say it’s all about people not bothering to check the facts they supply. And of course, certain newspapers (‘the Grouse Media’) will cheerfully print whatever blather CA / YFTB put out (Mail and Telegraph, most prominently).

    Liam Stokes (CA) quoted the junk 49% statistic in a tweet to the BBC the other day. So, it’s extremely important that they are called out on this crap. Thanks, as ever….

  4. http://www.roydennis.org/satellite/

    Check all the birds on Roy’s site.
    I certainly doesn’t demonstrate reliable transmitters.
    I still don’t think it would explain 8 eagles, but as mentioned earlier and ignored.
    3 of them were all at the same spot beside an actual wind farm.
    Still no one has commented on if there are any resident eagles in that area.
    And there has been wild life crimes in the vicinity.
    As usual, it’s never clean cut.

    1. Is it actually a wind farm, though? Or one of @voice_rural’s yet-to-be-built turbines that still manage to slice eagles from the air? Totally destroying the tag in the process?

    2. As to the cluster of 3, I’ve monitored golden eagles here for the past 9 years and there is no resident pair. In fact, I’ve never even seen an adult bird on this estate.

  5. Someone needs to ask the SCA, since they researched Sat-Tags in some detail, what they understand the MTBF of the things to be.

  6. Maybe the Eagles have taken up scuba diving with the sea turtles or maybe they’re just jealous of the Sea Eagles and fancy a bit of fishing in the sea, either way it’s well known, especially to the Scottish Countryside Alliance that Eagles like to swim in the sea now and then.

  7. Yet again we see those shooting organisations that publicly condemn wildlife crime, but in reality do all they can to cover it up with the most implausible claims. The days of anyone being fooled by their spurious spinning however are long gone.

  8. Everyone is overlooking the most important question..”Do the turtles only threaten Stone Curlews…while they are spinning?”

    If they are looking for info on sat tags why are they not turning to their “industry focussed” propaganda science bodies? Its a sad day when their scientists cant make something up and they have depend on the wisdom of Mr Angry from Fife,

  9. Grasping at straws, part of the issue seems to be that somebody somewhere has decided that the best way to deal with the negative publicity is to pretend it isn’t happening and to try to deflect the blame.
    As usual this has the exact opposite effect that they had hoped and makes them seem desperate.
    Interesting that when you speak to some of the shooting fraternity them admit the issues behind closed doors but are reticent to broach the subject publicly.
    Of all the arguments about the problems within shooting, I haven’t seen a single one of the “louder” proponents suggest that they could just start acting within the law, what a strange idea that must be to some.

  10. the evidence surrounding is overwhelming what. I can understand the shooting industry trying desperately to prevent the public from being aware of the truth. What is worse is the Scottish Government and SNH doing the same.

    The levels of persecution in Scotland is a national disgrace and SNP should take a far stronger stance on this.

    What is Roasanna Cunningha doing and what is her strategy going forward………………….

  11. Using data from sea-turtles was either a dishonest attempt to muddy the waters or deeply scientifically illiterate but either way the conclusions drawn were completely unwarranted. Well done RPUK for digging and getting to the bottom of this in order to expose the false claims.
    It does raise the question, though, of the usefulness of relevant comparative data on satellite tracked birds. Marking Golden Eagles (and Hen Harriers) with the same design of tags in comparable habitats in different countries (Scandinavia, North America…) would provide valuable data on bird survival rates and transmitter failure rates that could be useful for debunking the usual denials from the shooting community based on casting doubt about potential causes when birds go missing over grouse moors. Perhaps someone more involved in the science could comment on to what extent such data already exist.

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