UD ocean scientists address Lewes-Rehoboth Rotary

Gathered at the Lewes-Rehoboth Rotary meeting are (l-r) assistant professor of Oceanography Matthew Oliver, graduate student Matthew Breece, doctoral student Danielle Haulsee, Sussex Tech senior Sarah Pappa and Sussex Tech science teacher Mischa Suchanec with Blue Hen, an underwater robot used to track fish movements. SOURCE SUBMITTED
November 23, 2013

Scientists from the University of Delaware are using underwater robots to find and follow sand tiger sharks and sturgeon to better understand their behavior and migration patterns in real time.

"When you can see the ocean in real time, you can make better decisions," says Matthew Oliver, UD assistant professor of oceanography.

The innovative project, part of a multiyear partnership with Delaware State University, uses the robot to track sharks the researchers previously tagged with transmitters.

“Our new, specially equipped glider OTIS - which stands for Oceanographic Telemetry Identification Sensor - detected multiple sand tiger sharks off the coast of Maryland that were tagged over the past several years,” says Oliver of results early in the project. “This is the first time that a glider has found tagged sharks and reported their location in real time.”

OTIS is a remote-controlled device that looks like a yellow torpedo and normally darts through the ocean to sample water conditions. Oliver outfitted the apparatus with acoustic receivers that can recognize signals given off by the sharks’ transmitters as they travel through coastal waters, rapidly reporting the encounters.

The group brought OTIS's brother, Blue Hen, to the Rotary meeting.

“Sand tigers have suffered from a number of threats that ultimately led to population declines,” Delaware State’s Dewayne Fox says. “In 1997, sand tigers were listed as a Species of Concern by the National Marine Fisheries Service, although very little is known of their migrations and habitat requirements.”

Together with their students, Oliver and Fox spent last summer inserting the transmitters into sand tiger sharks in Delaware Bay. Using bait, hooks and a little patience, they caught the sharks - up to nine feet long - and carefully pulled them into a stretcher alongside their boat. Veterinarians from the Georgia Aquarium trained Oliver’s doctoral student, Danielle Haulsee, to insert the small transmitters in a quick surgery.

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