Background: Fish telemetry using electronic transmitter or data storage tags has become a common method for studying free-swimming fish both in the wild and in aquaculture. However, fish used in aquatic telemetry studies must be handled, anaesthetised and often subjected to surgical procedures to be equipped with tags, processes that will shift the fish from their normal physiological and behavioural states. In many projects, information is needed on when the fish has recovered after handling and tagging so that only the data recorded after the fish has fully recovered are used in analyses. We aimed to establish recovery times of adult Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) after an intraperitoneal tagging procedure featuring handling, anaesthesia and surgery.
Results: Based on ECG and accelerometer data collected with telemetry from nine individual Atlantic salmon during the first period after tagging, we found that heart rate was initially elevated in all fish, and that it took an average of 4 days for heart rate to return to an assumed baseline level. Although activity levels assessed from acceleration appeared to be less affected by the tagging procedure, baseline levels were on average reached after 3.4 days for this parameter.
Conclusion: Our findings showed that the Atlantic salmon used in this study on average required 3-4 days of recovery after tagging before tag data could be considered valid. Moreover, the differences between recovery times for heart rate and activity imply that recovery time recommendations should be developed based on a combination of indicators and not just on e.g. behavioural observations.