Humans aren't good at following sharks. We're noisy in the water, need to breathe air and the animals generally get disturbed when we're around. So a group of California universities put together a project to use autonomous underwater vehicles, or AUVs, to do the job.
To track the sharks, the scientists first caught them and attached a tag to their dorsal fins. The tag sent out an acoustic signal, like a "ping" from sonar. The sharks were leopard sharks, Triakis semifasciata, which are typically less than five feet long, and generally aren't dangerous to humans.
Presenting The World's Slowest Shark
The scientists then dropped the robot in the water. The robot listened for the ping, and the on-board computer did a quick calculation as to where the shark is. It then followed the shark, needing no direction form its handlers. The research was published in the latest issue of the Journal of Field Robotics.
Christopher Clark, a professor of engineering at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif., and one of the co-authors of the paper, noted that the robot is designed to track individual animals. That can provide valuable information about their habits. "We're looking at fine scale movement," he told Discovery News.