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Giant Octopus: NSF Major Research Instrumentation Grant

'This could do for near shore what satellite telemetry has done for open ocean research.' - Anonymous reviewer

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Development of an autonomous underwater vehicle for behavioral studies of octopus and other marine animals by video technique

2001-2003
David Scheel, Alaska Pacific University



2. Project Summary

This proposal is for instrumentation development of an autonomous system for recording free-ranging octopus behavior by video technique. David Scheel has been studying the ecology of Enteroctopus dofleini, the Giant Pacific Octopus, for the past six years. His work focuses on the ecology of the animal, particularly aspects of habitat and diet selection and their role in determining local density. Currently, our understanding of the ecology of this and other octopuses is limited by the ability to collect focal-animal data underwater. Where focal animal data has been collected on octopuses, it has been limited to clear, very shallow water (usually less than 2 m deep) where octopuses could be followed by snorkelers watching from the surface. Bottom-time and expense constraints have limited the utility of other techniques such as observations using SCUBA or submersible. Thus, although general techniques of octopus foraging have been observed and described, neither individual tactics nor overall feeding strategies are known for any species.

I propose to develop an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that can track a target octopus equipt with a sonic tag, and maintain a specified orientation with respect to the target. The AUV will carry a video camera and record video data of the behavior of the target animal. Design features of the proposed vehicle include those novel to tracking an animal (signal tracking and standby mode) and those already in existence or under development in other AUVs (slow speed and hover, high maneuverability, and operation near the bottom). The platform will be developed through a sub-award to Professor Thomas Vincent, Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, University of Arizona, who will design and build a system with stand-by mode, slow speed and hover abilities, and high maneuverability. The animal tracking system will be developed through a sub-award to Dr. Tyrone Vincent, Colorado School of Mines. The prototype AUV will be field tested through Alaska Pacific University and used in studies of the foraging ecology of the Giant Pacific Octopus. In addition to field testing, preliminary surveys will be designed to provide data on encounter rates, foraging success, and habitat selection by tagged and released octopuses.

The proposed development and research would involve students at all three institutions, including both undergraduate and graduate students. The proposed instrument development would support course development in marine technology at Alaska Pacific University, and student research experiences at each school. The proposed platform would support student and faculty research at Alaska Pacific University for the life of the equipment, and would help attract students to Marine Biology at APU. No one we are aware of is developing an AUV designed to follow animals. Once the proposed autonomous system exists, it will quickly be adopted as a tool for increasing knowledge of the marine environment in new ways. The proposed prototype vehicle would be capable of data collection on Pacific halibut and rockfish, for example (both species of particular commercial and management interest), in addition to the proposed work on octopuses.

 
 

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