Skip to main content

Underwater Drones From San Diego Are Tracking Krill Near Antarctica

A disassembled Teledyne glider in a workshop at NOAA's La Jolla offices, June...

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Above: A disassembled Teledyne glider in a workshop at NOAA's La Jolla offices, June 6, 2018

Federal fisheries researchers have successfully launched a remote control glider in hopes of tracking swarms of krill in the waters around Antarctica.

One 8-foot long glider is already in the water and another will join it this coming weekend.

Southwest Fisheries Science Center biologists are using the underwater gliders for the first time to track huge swarms of crustaceans known as krill.

The animals play an important role in that region’s food web.

NOAA Research biologist Jen Walsh is piloting the glider from San Diego and she has already been surprised.

“When the glider moves into a pretty dense krill patch it doesn’t dive very well because it detects the krill patch as the bottom of the ocean. So it kind of sits on the surface until it can move out of the krill patch or the krill patch moves away and then it can resume diving,” Walsh said.

San Diego scientists are, for the first time, tracking krill swarms with remotely controlled drones.

RELATED: San Diego Scientists To Use Drones In Antarctica Research

Walsh is helping pilot the gliders from San Diego.

“We used to charter a ship and go out for a month every year and our ultimate goal was to obtain a biomass estimate for Antarctic krill that could be used to inform management decisions about the krill fishery. These gliders have instrumentation on them that we hope will get us a lot of the same data,” Walsh said.

Some of the data collected can be transmitted back to San Diego in real time. Other data will be retrieved when the gliders are pulled out of the water in March.

The gliders should be able to measure the size of krill swarms along with the temperature of the water and salinity.

One limitation is that they cannot collect water samples, so there is still the need for an occasional research cruise.

San Diego researchers are tracking krill a half a world away, thanks to remotely controlled drones.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.