A surface glider powered by the Sun and an autonomous submarine have been deployed in the Celtic Sea to study dolphins and sea birds.
The two robotic vessels, developed by the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) in cooperation with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), have been sent for a three-week mission from Milford Haven in Wales.
Both vessels are equipped with a multitude of innovative sensors recording visual and audio data as well as instruments for monitoring water temperature, salinity and the presence of food sources such as plankton and fish.
“Marine robotic technologies give us the opportunity to have a persistent presence in the ocean and are changing the way in which we conduct science in the marine environment,” said the NOC’s Professor Russell Wynn, who is co-ordinating the research.
The autonomous vessels will focus on the Celtic Deep region of the Celtic sea – a known hotspot for marine animals including the Fin Whale and the globally threatened Balearic Shearwater.
The Autonomous Surface Vehicle is carrying GoPro cameras and marine mammal acoustic detectors, as well as a state-of-the-art meteorological station. It has the ability to harvest solar and wind energy from the marine environment and can therefore potentially remain offshore for several months.
“WWF is excited to support this innovative technology in order to get a clearer picture of what’s out there in our seas,” said Lyndsey Dodds, Head of Marine Policy at WWF UK. “Only through increased understanding can we can identify what needs to be done to ensure good management and protection.”
Researchers hope the robots will help them better understand what attracts the marine predators to this and other similar areas of the world’s oceans.