Rapid 3D Prototyping for biological use in harsh conditions

Using 3D design and printing, we were able to rapidly develop a flipper tag for Antarctic Deployment

  • 3D Design
  • Functional, Fast Prototype Development
  • Printed Flipper Tag was Deployed on an Antarctic Seal for over 300 days
  • Working to reduce marine debris

Rapid Development of a Flipper Tag for Antarctic Deployment

Identification tags have long been used by wildlife researchers and managers to track and monitor species. Commonly, researchers use tags developed for cattle or other livestock and adapt them to use on other species. While functional, these tags are prone to failure, and can cause injuries to animals. These tags are often used as bases for electronic monitoring and tracking devices.

We were approached by a research group to help develop a better tag for use on Weddell seals as part of a research project in Antarctica. The group had a short timeline to develop and deploy these new tags. In the past, producing a working tag would be costly and take years to develop. However, advances in technology have decreased the time and expense to develop such specialized equipment.

An example of the adaptation of existing technology is the cattle ear tag which has long been used as a flipper tag for marine mammals. The use of these tags, while effective, is not without issue.  With a single attachment point they are prone to loss and may potentially delay healing.  Additionally, the tags have to be cut off to retrieve any mounted transmitters, hindering recovery and requiring reconditioning of electronics before deployment.

After examining different production methods we determined 3D printing was the best option for our project requirements.  Tags were deployed and animals were recaptured up to 341 days after tag deployment.  The flipper tag was recovered intact by unscrewing the tag base. Upon removal, the flipper holes were well healed with no evidence of pressure necrosis or irritation.

Developing new research and management tools can be cost or time prohibitive. However, advances in technology, including 3D printing, have reduced the time and expense needed. 3D printing has been used to develop a splint for a radius and ulna fracture in a sea turtle, a prosthetic bill for a toucan, and turtle eggs to catch poachers.  While 3D printing offers flexibility in design and customization, other production methods should be considered when developing a product.  The decreased costs of new technologies and the increasing number of materials opens up new gateways for managers and researchers alike.

If you would like more information or need help in designing products for wildlife use please contact us.