"If there are commercially important species and fishers go out and they're not catching them, does that mean they caught them all or does that mean the animals simply moved somewhere else?" Lowe wondered. The agencies responsible for monitoring fish populations could use autonomous robot fleets, which Lowe said would be more cost-effective than sending out ships full of people.
Next, Lowe, Clark and their team plan to use the robots to track a baby white shark. Unlike gregarious leopard sharks that grow to around four or five feet, great whites can be 15 to 20 feet in size. They're extremely challenging to study. Lowe has tracked white sharks using satellite telemetry in the past, but it has limitations. The tagged shark needed to be near the surface to get a good GPS reading. Sending a robot after a tagged baby white shark will represent a first, and should reveal new information about the shark's fine-scale movement.
Technologies Inspired by Sharks
At the moment the scientists are waiting for the permits, which they hope will come through in the next couple weeks. Lowe said he thinks smart autonomous underwater robots are the wave of the future. "It's exciting to be at the front of the wave," he said.