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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 635:1-7 (2020)  -  DOI:

Test of unmanned surface vehicles to conduct remote focal follow studies of a marine predator

Carey E. Kuhn1,*, Alex De Robertis2, Jeremy Sterling1, Calvin W. Mordy3,4, Christian Meinig4, Noah Lawrence-Slavas4, Edward Cokelet4, Mike Levine2, Heather Tabisola3,4, Richard Jenkins5, David Peacock5, Danny Vo6

1Marine Mammal Laboratory, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Seattle, Washington 98115, USA
2Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering Division, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, NOAA, Seattle, Washington 98115, USA
3Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA
4Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, NOAA, Seattle, Washington 98115, USA
5Saildrone Inc., Alameda, California 94501, USA
6Wildlife Computers Inc., Redmond, Washington 98052, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: We tested the feasibility of using Saildrone unmanned wind- and solar-powered surface vehicles to conduct remote focal follow studies of northern fur seals Callorhinus ursinus. Using Argos satellite and transmitted GPS locations, the Saildrones followed a fur seal while recording oceanographic conditions and mapping prey abundance and depth distribution using a scientific echosounder. The Saildrones successfully followed 6 fur seals over 2.4 ± 0.2 d (mean ± SE) and 149.7 ± 16.3 km of the foraging path. Median separation distance between the Saildrone and fur seal path was 0.65 ± 0.1 km and average time separation was 9.9 ± 1.4 h, with minimum time separations ranging from 1.9-4.9 h. Time and distance separation were a function of both animal behavior and study design. Our results show that Saildrones can approach satellite tracked marine predators from long distances and follow them over extended periods while collecting oceanographic and prey data. These successful focal follows demonstrate that unmanned surface vehicles are a valuable tool for collecting data on fine-scale relationships between marine predators, their prey, and the environment.

KEY WORDS: Northern fur seal · Saildrone · Walleye pollock · Bering Sea

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Cite this article as: Kuhn CE, De Robertis A, Sterling J, Mordy CW and others (2020) Test of unmanned surface vehicles to conduct remote focal follow studies of a marine predator. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 635:1-7.

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