Robot Tracks White Sharks, App Lets You Follow Them

Scientists have deployed a robot that follows sharks.

ByABC News
August 20, 2012, 11:51 AM

Aug. 20, 2012 — -- And you thought Shark Week was over.

A team of marine biologists, led by Prof. Barbara Block at Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station, has deployed a self-propelled Wave Glider robot off the coast of San Francisco that listens for and follows white sharks. But the robot is only one piece of the high-tech puzzle: an app for the iPhone or iPad lets everyone, non-marine biologists and marine biologists alike, see the information the robot is collecting about the sharks.

"The Wave Glider is moving along on a fixed trajectory. If there is a tagged animal within 2,400 feet it will hear that tag and it will relay that information to our ground station," Block told ABC News.

For the last decade, the Tagging of Pelagic Predators project -- TOPP for short -- has been placing electronic tags on white sharks and other sea creatures. Over 4,000 tags have been placed on animals across the Pacific, including sharks, tuna, and whales. The new yellow-colored Wave Glider joins a number of fixed buoys that have been picking up the signals from those tagged animals.

The seven-foot long glider, which is made by Liquid Robotics, uses wave energy to push through the water. Solar panels power the scientific equipment. It is able to locate the sharks using a receiver that listens to the audio signals from their electronic tags.

The data is sent to Block's team of marine biologists to analyze, but also to you -- that is, if you have the Shark Net app on your iPhone or iPad. The iOS app's interactive map lets you see the location of the sharks in respect to the buoys and the Wave Glider. The app covers 15 white sharks, which the team has been studying for as long as 25 years. There are also 3-D renderings of the sharks, and photos and videos about the project.

The free app, which is funded in part by a Rolex award given to Dr. Block, is available now in the Apple App Store.

Block said her goal is to build more knowledge of the comings and goings of the animals off the coast of San Francisco, which she has dubbed the "Blue Serengeti" because of the many sea creatures that come through the area.

"This is the lunch stop on the Pacific Coast for these large, charismatic animals," she said. "We are trying to wire the hotspots and build a knowledge of the numbers that are arriving, and build mathematical models as climate changes and human exploitation happens," Block said.

And her work has just started: "We are in a trial experiment right now. Our goal is to move up and down the West Coast of North America."

As you see, Shark Week is far from over.