With the number of shark sightings and shark attacks in the news these days (a Massachusetts man survived a brutal attack off the coast of Cape Cod in July, and five people have been killed by sharks in Australia in the past year), it's only fitting that a team of Stanford University engineers should develop a robot that follows great whites and transmits data about them back to shore.
The Wave Glider, developed and designed by the Stanford engineers and Liquid Robotics, was recently launched into the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco. It's a 7-foot-long yellow surfboard with a boat-like propulsion system, and it's powered using solar energy.
The solar-powered Wave Glider includes an acoustic receiver that tracks the location of sharks. Information from the tags is transmitted along a network of buoys in areas where sharks are known to congregate and connects to an iPhone/iPad app so users also can follow the sharks, as well as view interactive maps and information about them. (Source: Stanford University)
The shark finder (let's call it what it is), is part of a larger ocean data network comprising fixed buoys serving as wireless hotspots deployed in places where sharks tend to congregate between Monterey Bay and Tomales Bay near San Francisco.
Part of Stanford marine sciences professor Barbara Block’s "Blue Serengeti Initiative," the Wave Glider includes an acoustic receiver that will track sharks fitted with acoustic tags throughout the rest of the summer and into fall to inform Stanford marine researchers about their behavior.
“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 said in a press release.
Block hopes to eventually extend this so-called “wired ocean” down the entire west coast of North America and use a fleet of Wave Gliders to track, not only sharks, but other fish and large ocean predators.
iPhone and iPad users also can remotely observe the sharks through a free Shark Net. Block created the app with developers from mobile app development companies EarthNC and Gaia GPS, as well as with developers from the international Census of Marine Life’s Tagging of Pacific Predators (TOPP) project -- of which Block’s Blue Serengeti is an extension.
The app notifies users when a shark that’s being tracked passes within about 1,000 feet of one of the hotspot buoys, and explores the regions the sharks inhabit through customizable interactive maps. It also includes a media gallery with photos, videos, historical tracking data, and 3D interactive models of the sharks and the region in which they live. The models also include buoys and Wave Gliders, as well as realistic photos of the specific sharks being tracked, including information about the physical markings that make them identifiable to researchers following them.
In my limited watching of Animal Planet, it seems like they say that most sharks need to keep moving to get water across their gills to stay alive. That being the case, if you hit a great white with a tranquilizer gun, will it die? And if you don't hit it with a tranquilizer gun, will it eat you when you try to put a tracking tag on it? If so, it's not worth the effort.
My guess is that sharks like most things have sex so there is probably a limitless supply of new sharks. Sounds like long term employment for someone. On the other hand if your job is tagging them it's probably like explosive ordnance disposal jobs - there is always openings for new employees.
I found a link here that details types of tags and their attachment methods. For acoustic sensors as mentioned in the article, the tag is placed in a smaller bait fish that sharks like and and will readily eat. Alternativly, they are tagged with a handheld harpoon as detailed in this NOAA guideline for the Northeastern Fishery.
Boy; I made a similar lampooning comment about the unwarranted cries from Privacy Advocates after a recent article and got called a pacifist! Glad you're getting some peer-to-peer validation. I'm with you.
I agree. A tracking dangerous sharks and ocean data collection is a good robotics application because no harm can come to humans. I like the use of solar power to keep the robot functioning while searching for sharks in the ocean. For more information on the wave glide robot, here's a link:
In the spirit of being "rationally irrational" it makes sense to develop an application that tracks a fearsome predator of the oceans. (After all, your average human is much more likely to be killed by a bee than a shark). Presumably this same approach could be used to track more benign species, such as certain whales for whom humans would be considered a fearsome ocean predator. That being said, this is a pretty neat application of technology deployed in a demanding environment. It's no trivial feat to get this to work reliably. Looking forward to future developments from this group.
I agree with you and Scott. I hope shark tracking apps will be opened to the Android and Windows 7 smartphone markets so more folks can view the progress of the project in somewhat realtime. I can see this tool being used in biology classes for both K-12 and college levels bringing the discovery of oceanography to the classrooms in an open source, interactive teaching environment.
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