The scientists at the US Geological Survey are launching two uncrewed surface vehicles, Saildrones, to conduct a fishery study at Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Beginning their mission today, these ocean drones will gather fish distribution and density data around the clock for the next 45 days.
The study commences at Lake Michigan today, with the drones sailing north into Lake Huron through September. The 23-foot autonomous vehicles are powered by wind and solar energy and carry no people. The drones are unmistakable with their 15-foot-tall bright neon-orange wing sail and weighted keel.
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Saildrone Explorers bear a payload of science sensors and navigational and communications equipment on their hulls. For the Great Lakes fishery study, the technology at play would be that of “sound” or acoustics. And that’s because marine biologists need to understand the effects that the engine noise of a large vessel could have on fish sampling and catchability.
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This information will be then used to inform the sustainable management of the $7 billion-per-year Great Lakes fishing industry. Some of the important fish populations found in the Great Lakes include lake trout, walleye, Pacific salmon, lake whitefish, white bass, yellow perch, alewife, gizzard shad, ciscoes, shiners, and sculpins.
It’s one of the goals of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission – which was established in 1955 by the Canadian/US Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries – to prevent the loss of native fish species from any Great Lake. To that end, USGS scientists are also hoping that the data collected from Saildrones will help them to better understand the effects of invasive mussels and nutrient loss in the water.
Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that the acoustic technology used in the study will not pose any risk to people or animals. Nor will the Saildrones interfere with sonar, communications equipment, or similar electronics.
Also read: Saving the dugong with marine research drones
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