The main objective of the MINTAG project is to develop smaller and lighter tags for long-term deployment, than the ones existing on the market today.

The large fast-swimming rorquals are typically too big to be captured alive and many are too skittish to be approached at close distance. So far, it has been difficult to successfully deploy satellite transmitter tags from a long-distance on these species. The goal of the MINTAG project is to develop new satellite telemetry tags and optimise the deployment of new long-lasting satellite tags and optimise the deployment methods to allow for the collection of year-round datasets of geographic positions for these species.

To tag fast-swimming whales, it is necessary to develop satellite transmitters that are small and can be shot into the skin and blubber from distances of over 20 m. This is often the closest that a well-trained whale-tagger can approach these whales. The whales show the back of their body for only a few seconds before the next dive, so a projectile tag must fly along a fairly straight trajectory across distances up to 30 m.

The new tags can also be used on smaller whale species (smaller diameter) and fast swimming species (as implantable tags generate less drag and vibration). Their longevity will be extended, as the retention time should be increased (reduced impact meaning reduced rejection risk) and the technology will be improved further by a reduced battery consumption compared to existing tags.

Satellite Telemetry

Satellite telemetry allows researchers to track the movement of an animal by using orbiting satellites that detect signals emitted from a transmitter attached to the animal. It is a widely used technology for tracking everything from sea turtles to birds and mammals. It has also been used extensively on marine mammals, including some groups of larger whales that are easier to approach, such as the humpback, bowhead and sperm whales.

Satellite tagging of a common minke whale in summer 2014 off Norway. The carrier for the satellite tag, that can be seen on the back of the whale, will fall of quite soon after the tag is implanted into the whale and leave the tag inside. © K.A. Fagerheim, IMR, Norway.

Different satellite tracking systems are currently used in the four NAMMCO member countries and Japan for studying the movement of several species of baleen whales, including minke, fin and blue whales at Svalbard and Norway, minke and humpback whales in Iceland, minke, fin, humpback and bowhead whales in Greenland, fin whales in the Faroe Islands and fin, sei, bryde’s and minke whales in Japan. A high level of investment in terms of both effort and funding has been spent on scattered attempts to acquire data on the whales.  However, to make significant progress in tagging studies, a joint effort is required to refine the methods in a way that will eventually benefit the cetacean research in all five countries as well as beyond. Reliable and well-performing satellite transmitter systems are currently available for birds, terrestrial mammals, seals, small cetaceans and some species of large cetaceans that can be relatively easily approached for short-range tagging. There is therefore an opportunity to refine these systems to address the need to develop effective satellite tracking systems for baleen whales, and especially for more cryptic species like minke and fin whales. 

Tag Design

The MINTAG project aims to develop miniaturized satellite tags that can be used to track the movements and stock structure of lesser-known, under-studied rorquals and pilot whales that are fast swimmers. Previous attempts to tag these species have been limited in duration (weeks) due to the premature rejection of relatively large tags. Tagging these species is particularly challenging due to their high speeds, which make them difficult to approach and properly tag.

The MINTAG project has developed the V0c tags, which are based on the V0b tags (tested in 2023), which are specifically designed for fin, minke, and pilot whales in the North Atlantic and North Pacific. The tags and have undergone several modifications since the first prototypes to arrive at the V0c tag design. Nineteen V0b tags were deployed successfully in 2023, and the improved version, 30 V0c tags will be deployed in the summer of 2024.

For more information about the testing of the tags that led to the decisions made for the V0b design, click here. You can read more about the experience deploying V0b tags, and follow the deployment of V0c tags here.

V0c tags (2024)

The MINTAG tagging teams faced numerous challenges during the 2023 field deployments, likely related to the low retention (i.e., the time the tag remains inside the whale) of the tags in the whales. These challenges limited the ability to adequately evaluate the MINTAG’s mechanical designs.

Consequently, the Steering Group and Wildlife Computers decided to further test the tags that be better retained in the whales during the 2024 deployments by developing two variants of the V0b minke whale tags: one with petals and one with a retention cone. Both variants have distinct features, while other developments remain the same for both, such as the addition of flies in the carrier and the splitable stop plate.

Petal version
Cone version
Tip style

A short sharpened triangular style tip with concave sides. The difference lays on the space between the shaft and the housing of the retention mechanis

Retention feature
Rounded, somewhat flexible, fairly wide and fairly short petals. This version has two sets of petals, one on the shaft near the tip and one near the base of the housing.
34 mm diameter cone, ridges to be parallel to the shaft, similar to the V0b minke whale tag version.

Housing to be the same for both versions and nearly the same as the V0b housing

Thirty V0c tags, 15 tags of each variant will be deployed in the summer of 2024.

V0b tags (2023)

The V0b tag prototype consist in two different tags: the fin whale tag (Figure 1) and the minke whale tag (Figure 2). The two tag designs are based on differences in blubber thickness and distance to fascia (Figure 3) between the two target species: the fin and the minke whale. Both tags would ideally penetrate with the tip embedded below fascia, with the minke whale tags in some circumstance only penetrating the blubber. For more information consult our glossary.

Figure 1. V0b Fin whale tag, TTL 290 mm, 216 g
Figure 2. V0b Minke whale tag, TTL 150 mm, 148 g


The tags are composed of four main components, including:

  • The dart tip, which cuts through the skin and blubber of the whale to ensure successful implantation.
  • The tag housing, which contains the battery and transmitter.
  • Retention cones that act as stoppers below the dermis or fascia to facilitate encapsulation and improve tag retention.
  • The antenna, which transmits the tag signal
Figure 3. Structure of whale skin

The ‘retention cones’ of the V0b tags have been redesigned
based on tests conducted on fin whale carcasses in
Iceland during
the summer of 2022. To improve the retention properties, an improvised
‘blob-like’ feature was added to the V0b prototype (Figure 4). During testing,
this modification showed promising results, as it required considerable
strength to pull the tag out of the carcass. Consequently, the StG and Wildlife
Computers decided to refine the design and incorporate it into the final V0b
design. The retention cones in the current design have a rough surface to
provide a better grip, and they are perforated to allow tissue growth inside
the cone, thus increasing the retention time of the tags.

The V0b carrier is an aluminum tube equipped with stiff flights fixed with flexible glue, which is suitable for both tag designs (Figure 5). The tag with transmitter is located at the tip of the carrier and is released from the carrier upon impact with the whale.4

Figure 4. The infamous “blob” which started the design of the V0b retention cone
Figure 5. V0b carrier
Developments on V0b during the tagging season
After the test shootings of five fin whale tags in Japan in June 2023, and test shootings of Greenland with Wildlife Computers, the Steering Group decided to change the fin whale tag design for the next tests in August 2023.

Kenji Konishi as well as Greenland with Wildlife Computers observed during the deployment that there were difficulties in hitting the target position accurately and achieving sufficient penetration, both of which are crucial for the initial testing of transmitters and deployment performance.

Therefore, the fin whale tag 2.0 is shorter than the previous one only measuring 21 cm and has a single front retention cone (Figure 6). Additionally, to ensure that the tag can effectively penetrate and cut through the skin without bouncing back due to the elasticity of the skin layers the tag has a three-blade cutting tip instead of the dart tip.

Figure 6. Fin whale 2.0 version of the V0b prototype
The transmitter

The MINTAG will be the first tag of a generation of Wildlife Computers tags that will utilise a new transmitter capable of transmitting to older Argos 2 and Argos 3 satellites, as well as to newer Argos 4 satellites.  The transmitter is smaller, more efficient, and requires less power, enabling use in smaller tags such as the MINTAG.  With duty-cycling, the tag should be capable of transmitting for up to one year.


After the deployment of the 25 V0b tags in summer 2023 and 30 V0c tags in summer 2024, and once the scientists have studied the transmission duration from the tags, the design will be re-evaluated and potentially adjusted for the creation of the V1a tags that will be deployed in spring-summer 2025. The adjustments will be based on the experiences and findings from the 2023 and 2024 field tests, including deployment success, retention time, and the quality of transmissions.

Technical Details

Further information on technical details will be displayed when the tag has been optimally developed and has proven to be reliable after successful deployment on fast-swimming rorquals, i.e., demonstrated a longer retention time and life time that what has been achieved today. The first trials of the new tags will be conducted in 2023.


Some of the terms used in satellite telemetry methods are specific to this field and will be explained in this glossary. Some terms may not have been used on the website yet, but will be under Tag Design and Technical Design.
ARTS Air Rocket Transmitter System - same as launcher
Attachment cup
Part of the carrier to which the tag is attached during deployment
Biobsy tip
A hollow steel cylinder that collects and retains a skin/blubber biopsy
The three bladed tip used for the fin whale version 2. Originally developed for crossbow hunting
Device that is used for carrying the tag from the launcher to the whale, also called ‘launching tube’ or ‘rocket’. Will detach and be recovered for re-use after a tag deployment.
Cutting tip
A tip with 2-3 sharp cutting blades
Dart tip
Sharp end of the tag that cuts through whale skin and blubber to ensure entry and successful implantation of the tag

Dense layer of connective tissue that separates blubber from muscle

The feather on the carrier that helps maintain a stable and controlled flight trajectory.
Device used for deploying tags, in this case the ARTS system
Retention cone
Roughly doughnut-shaped widening around the tag shaft that acts as a stopper below the dermis or fascia to facilitate encapsulation and thereby retention of the tag
Retention line
A monofilament line that can hold the tag to the carrier in case of misses
Retention petals
Leaf-like metal pieces that swing out into the blubber to resist expulsion of the tag

The element in front of the tag housing, also called ‘spear’ and ‘anchor’

Epidermis and dermis
Triangular plate at the distal end of the tag that assist in stopping the tag from penetrating too deep under the skin
Round plate in front of the triangular stopper on the tag. Its purpose is to prevent penetration the top of the tag and the antenna below the skin surface

Tag housing

The part of the tag that includes the battery and the transmitter
Total tag length: length of tag housing + shaft + tip
Umbrella petals
A collection of petals mounted as an umbrella around the tag, either one or two umbrellas will be used
Minke whale tag