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ESR 4:157-164 (2008)  -  DOI:

Flexible paddle sheds new light on speed: a novel method for the remote measurement of swim speed in aquatic animals

Emily L. C. Shepard1,*, Rory P. Wilson1, Nikolai Liebsch1, Flavio Quintana2,3, Agustina Gómez Laich2, Klaus Lucke4

1Biological Sciences, Institute of Environmental Sustainability, University of Wales, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK
2Centro Nacional Patagónico (CENPAT)-CONICET, (9120) Puerto Madryn, Chubut, Argentina
3Wildlife Conservation Society, 2300 Southern Boulevard, New York, New York 10460, USA
4Forschungs- und Technologiezentrum Westküste, Hafentörn, 25761 Büsum, Germany

ABSTRACT: Speed is a key determinant of energy expenditure in free-living animals, and particularly in marine vertebrates, where power requirements for swimming increase as a cubed function of the speed. However, current devices used to measure swim speed in free-living animals have limitations, including excessive drag, low resolution, high stall speed (ca. 0.3 m s–1), cost, biofouling and susceptibility to damage. We present a speed sensor system that utilises the reflectance of infrared light against a flexible paddle that bends in relation to the flow of water over the study animal. In laboratory trials, this performed well across a range of speeds (0.1 to 1.75 m s–1), and had a stall speed of 0.1 m s–1. The advantages of this present paddle system are that it is impervious to the presence of matter in the water column, is inexpensive and easily replaceable. Furthermore, the system is able to record speed data at an unparalleled resolution, limited solely by sampling frequency. Data from deployments of devices on free-living imperial cormorants Phalacrocorax atriceps identified changes in speed within and between swim strokes, and also showed that greater speed was generated per kick as the buoyancy decreased with depth. As such, the flexible paddle system holds promise for the measurement of speed in free-living, aquatic animals.

KEY WORDS: Speed · Dive behaviour · Electronic tagging · Marine predator · Energy expenditure · Flow meter

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Cite this article as: Shepard ELC, Wilson RP, Liebsch N, Quintana F, Gómez Laich A, Lucke K (2008) Flexible paddle sheds new light on speed: a novel method for the remote measurement of swim speed in aquatic animals. Endang Species Res 4:157-164.

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