Underwater robot looks for endangered sturgeon fish

© ORB Lab / University of Delaware

The latest in a growing group of awesome underwater robots doing great things for science is an autonomous glider that is helping University of Delaware scientists find endangered Atlantic sturgeon fish in Delaware waterways and beyond.

As UD reports, "More than a century ago, an estimated 180,000 female Atlantic sturgeon arrived from the coast in the spring to spawn in the Delaware River and fishermen sought their caviar as a lucrative export to Europe. Overfishing contributed to steep population declines, however, and today numbers have dwindled to fewer than 300 adults."

The solution that the university has come up with is to use satellite information and historical records of ocean conditions and where the migrating species has been previously tracked to predict where they may be on any given day.

“There are specific, observable waters in the ocean that we hypothesize are more associated with this species,” said Matthew Oliver, assistant professor of oceanography in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment.

© ORB Lab / University of Delaware

When these condition arise, the robot (OTIS) gets sent out to try and locate some of the species and so far it has worked. In three weeks of the experiment, 10 sturgeon have been detected by the robot. If not tagged already, fish are tagged and then released. The project will go for a total of three months, collecting migration data for the fish and also using on-board technology to collect additional ocean data like salinity, dissolved oxygen levels, chlorophyll and ocean currents.

The hard part of protecting fish species is that they're always on the move, but with technology like the glider and this new prediction system, when fish are detected, warnings can be sent to fishermen to avoid certain areas where sturgeon are active.

The team would like to ultimately have several gliders in the water at different sites to get a better idea of the borders of the fish's movement.

You can follow along with the project's progress and see more photos at the team's Facebook page.

Tags: Conservation | Fish | Technology