Kintama was founded in 2000 by David Welch after attending a small workshop in Honolulu where he realized that five technical advances by VEMCO provided the potential for building very large-scale marine telemetry systems that could answer a number of critical scientific questions. He became interested in applying acoustic technology to obtain much needed information on the marine phase of Pacific salmon (and other marine fish) but couldn’t interest his employers in pursuing this, and as a result founded Kintama. In early 2001 the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and the Northwest Power and Planning Council (NPPC) granted funds to Kintama to further development work on the tracking array concept. Kintama’s proposal was ranked #1 of 63 competing proposals submitted under a call for Innovative Proposals in the Columbia River basin.
In 2001/2002, the POST (Pacific Ocean Salmon Tracking) program was initiated as a three-pronged research effort under the Vancouver Aquarium, with funding from the Sloan Foundation’s Census of Marine Life. One of the three salmon tracking components was related to the acoustic array concept, and initially involved science “focus groups” to evaluate the concept. A small pilot study was subsequently funded to evaluate a practical demonstration of the technology in steelhead smolts and used a prototype design from Kintama. Partly as a result of the success of this trial, POST was re-named Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking to signal the new geographic focus, and major funding for the Secretariat and a large-scale demonstration phase was secured in late 2003 from the Census of Marine Life and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for the deployment of a 2004-2005 large-scale study in the “Salish Sea” region. Kintama continues to operate, on behalf of POST, this first generation design of the large-scale west coast acoustic array.
At the same time as these developments, Kintama used some of the 2001 funding from the Innovative Proposal award to evaluate wireless communication technologies (“acoustic modems”) and the potential for successful long-term surgical implantation of 9mm diameter Vemco acoustic tags into steelhead smolts. The surgical methods developed were successful for this purpose, and were later applied in additional surgical trials as new (and even smaller) tags were developed. The acoustic modem research was passed on to Fred Voegeli (then President of VEMCO) who subsequently incorporated the recommended modem into a new wireless VR3 variant of VEMCO’s iconic VR2 tracking receiver which would allow for remote transmission of data and very long-lived battery packs.
In 2005, Kintama developed strategies for deploying the new VR3 receivers, and introduced “flotation collars” for these, rated to at least 750 m depth and allowing for multi-year deployments. Later that year Kintama received a 4 year contract from BPA and NPCC to expand its array along the outer coast of North America. Under this contract, from 2006 to 2010 Kintama has published ground-breaking experimental results that challenge deeply-held pre-conceptions on the relative roles of river, dam, estuary, and ocean conditions on salmon survival.
In addition, Kintama has continued to conduct a number of other smaller scale studies for a range of customers as well as funding its own research. Most recently David Welch has been an expert witness and reviewer to the Canadian government’s judicial enquiry (the Cohen Commission) that is currently investigating the reasons for the 2009 catastrophic collapse of the Fraser River sockeye salmon returns.