Robot Spies On Sharks

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Observing sharks in the wild isn't always the easiest thing to do. Sharks can be tagged and tracked via satellite, but that information gives a mostly two-dimensional view of where the fish has come from and where it's going. Now a group of researchers at the University of Delaware has turned to an underwater robot to observe sharks.

The robot is called the Oceanographic Telemetry Identification Sensor, or OTIS. Shaped like a torpedo, it tracks previously tagged sharks — specifically, sand tiger sharks, stealthily over the course of several days.

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Ordinarily OTIS is used to sample water conditions, but this time it was fitted with receivers

to pick up the signals from the shark tags. Since OTIS is remote-controlled,

it can be sent to follow a shark and report back in real time, giving a much

clearer picture of where the animals travel.

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OTIS meanwhile, will

help the scientists figure out what kind of water conditions sharks like to swim

in during their travels. The robot will test the temperature, clarity and

oxygen levels. This too could offer insight into behavior — and also how to

protect the sharks. The species is listed as "vulnerable" by the International Union for the

Conservation of Nature.

Eventually the information could be combined with other data gathered from other shark-tracking technology. One type of tag transmits its location

while listening for the "pings" from other sharks tagged with the

same device. That means scientists can see not only where a shark is but how

many of her fellows are nearby. This offers insight into

sharks' social behaviors and the location of their habitats.

Credit: Evan Krape / University of Delaware