The 25th annual Shark Week may be wrapping up, but things are just getting started for a robot in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Recently deployed by researchers at Stanford University, the unmanned Wave Glider robot will spend its career heeding the famous advice of "30 Rock's" Tracy Jordan: "Live every week like it's Shark Week."
The self-propelled, solar-powered robot was released from the U.S. coast near San Francisco, where Stanford scientists say it will join "an arsenal of ocean-observing technologies" that spy on great white sharks and other sea creatures in real time.
The arsenal also includes a network of data receivers on fixed buoys, which the Wave Glider will join in collecting data from acoustic-tagged animals that pass within 1,000 feet. These signals are then sent to an onshore research team led by Stanford marine biologist Barbara Block, who wants to create a "wired ocean" that can broadcast wildlife activities worldwide via floating WiFi hotspots, according to a press release.
"Our goal is to use revolutionary technology that increases our capacity to observe our oceans and census populations, improve fisheries management models, and monitor animal responses to climate change," Block says in a statement.
The Wave Glider and fixed buoys will spend this summer and fall transmitting data from animals off the California coast, including a small population of great white sharks that conservationists recently petitioned the federal government to classify as an endangered species. This area is part of a broader, densely biodiverse region known as the "Blue Serengeti," which is teeming with blue whales, bluefin tuna, white sharks, mako sharks, sea turtles, elephant seals and other sea life.
All this data won't be limited to academia, either. Thanks to a new iOS app called "Shark Net," anyone with an iPhone or iPad can track the Blue Serengeti's inhabitants in real time. "The idea behind the app is to allow everyone to explore the places where these sharks live," Stanford marine biologist Randy Kochevar says in a statement via GTOPP, "and to get to know them just like their friends on Facebook or Google+."
Users can receive alerts anytime a tagged shark passes within 1,000 feet of a floating data receiver, and can even find out when it's a specific, named shark (like "Bite Head" or "Mr. Burns"). There are photos, 3-D models and historical data for each individual shark, letting users stalk the predators online much like they stalk prey at sea.
"People realize this is important, but it's hard for them to connect on a visceral, personal level to the incredible biodiversity in their own backyard," Kochevar says. "Through this app, we're able to put the Blue Serengeti right in their hands. They can follow individual sharks and learn about their lives and feeding habits."
While the monitoring network will be limited to part of the California coast for now, Block hopes to eventually extend it down the entire west coast of North America, tracking animals ranging from salmon to sea turtles to great white sharks. She's also working on a plan to obtain U.N. World Heritage Site designation for the Blue Serengeti. "This place is one of the last wild places left on Earth," she says.
Here's a video of the Wave Glider robot being deployed: