Marine scientists in the US have deployed a surfing robot off the coast of San Francisco in order to help track tagged great white sharks in the Pacific Ocean, various media outlets reported Friday.
According to Mark Prigg of the Daily Mail, the seven-foot long robotic “wave glider” was built by Liquid Robotics and resembles a yellow surfboard. It can reportedly detect signals from marked fish up to 1,000 feet away and relay their location to a satellite transmitter and then onto researchers.
In addition, Sky News Health and Science Correspondent Thomas Moore reports that a live feed of the information can be obtained by iPhone users and other iOS devices provided they download the free “Shark Net” app. The software also includes interactive maps and data utilized by scientists to identify the aquatic predators.
“Our goal is to use revolutionary technology that increases our capacity to observe our oceans and census populations, improve fisheries management models, and monitor animal responses to climate change,” Dr. Barbara Block, the head of the project and a marine sciences professor at Stanford University, said in a prepared statement on Friday, adding that her mission is “to protect ocean biodiversity and the open sea…This place is one of the last wild places left on Earth.”
BBC Nature reporter Ella Davies said that the robot/app combo is Block’s attempt to “fine-tune” more than a decade’s worth of shark research while also raising marine life awareness among the general public. Her previous research revealed that the ocean waters off the California coast were a “hotspot” for a plethora of shark species, Davies said, but that Block felt a “mobile observatory” was needed to further study the “incredible homing ability” and other aspects of the great whites.
“The bright yellow shark-tracking robot designed by the company consists of two parts – a glider that descends 23ft (7m) down into the ocean with a surfboard above,” the BBC Nature reporter explained. “The glider has a special wing system that converts wave energy into forward thrust to keep the robot moving through the water. It also has a receiver that picks up the audio signals from the sharks’ electronic tags.”
“The surfboard carries the rest of the scientific instruments, including the satellite link that allows researchers to accurately pinpoint the animals’ locations,” Davies added. “When a shark or other tagged animal encounters the robot, their position is recorded and relayed back to the research team… They have also placed a number of fixed buoys mounted with underwater audio receivers known as hydrophones to form a listening network in known hotspots.”
The wave glider project is part of the Census of Marine Life (COML) Tagging of Pacific Predators (TOPP) initiative, which involved 75 experts in five different countries, according to Parnell. TOPP researchers track the migrations of over 4,000 different animals, including not just sharks, but seals, whales, turtles and seabirds as well. “Our goal is to use revolutionary technology that increases our capacity to observe our oceans and census populations, improve fisheries’ management models, and monitor animal responses to climate change,” Block told Moore.