Sailing Drones Collect Data for Great Lakes Fishery StudyCitizens Could See Sailboat-like Vehicles

This article is a Media Advisory from the U.S .Geological Survey

Release Date: August 4, 2021


These Saildrone Explorers will use acoustic, or sound, technology to gather fish distribution and density data around-the-clock. USGS scientists will use the data to better understand the effects of invasive mussels and nutrient loss in the water. (Credit: Saildrone, Inc.)


On August 5, two uncrewed surface vehicles will begin a 45-day sailing mission through Lakes Michigan and Huron as part of a scientific study.


The U.S. Geological Survey and Saildrone, Inc. launched the vehicles from Macatawa, Michigan, on July 28. These ocean drones, called Saildrone Explorers, will begin collecting fishery data on Lake Michigan starting August 5, sailing north into Lake Huron through September. Information collected as part of the study will help inform sustainable management of the $7 billion per year Great Lakes fishing industry.


The Saildrones will use acoustic, or sound, technology to gather fish distribution and density data around-the-clock. USGS scientists will use the data to better understand the effects of large vessel engine noise on fish sampling and catchability. This information will be used to sustain important fisheries for states, Tribes and likely the Province of Ontario, Canada.


The 23-foot autonomous vehicles are powered by wind and solar energy and carry no people. The sailboat-like drones have a 15-foot-tall wing sail and weighted keel, and they bear a payload of science sensors and navigational and communications equipment on their hulls.


The acoustic technology used in the study is not hazardous to people or animals and will not interfere with sonar, communications equipment or similar electronics.


For information about USGS research on the Great Lakes, please visit the USGS Great Lakes Science Center website.


Additional Information about Saildrone, Inc.:


· Saildrone is based in Almeda, California. Their largest surface water drone is 72 feet long. The type of drone used in the Great Lakes study has a wind propulsion speed averaging 3 knots, or about 3.45 miles per hour.

· The company has been contracted previously to survey Alaska pollock stock, study white shark behaviors, survey fish populations off the coast of Norway and more.

· According to Saildrone, the company’s drones broke the record for fastest autonomous vehicle crossing of the Atlantic Ocean at 75 days at sea and were the first to cross it in both directions.

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