“On certain Chinese or Spanish ships the signal suddenly goes silent when they approach an economic zone,” lead author Henri Weimerskirch of France’s National Centre for Scientific Research said. “That means they’re fishing in the boundary area.”
This is problematic for enforcement and conservation officers, who are trying to prevent rogue ships especially since other means to search for these boats are too expensive.
This is where the albatrosses come in.
Although these ships have turned off their AIS, they still need a radar to navigate and prevent collisions with other boats. The moment that an albatross approaches a boat, the device mounted on its back detects the radar signal then sends the data directly to the scientists. The scientists can, then, locate the ships and see whether they have turned their AIS off.
The scientists conducted the study for six months and, interestingly, they found that out of the 353 radar contacts that the albatrosses made, 30 percent were actually from vessels that have turned off their AIS. This is the first estimation of the number of undeclared fishing boats operating without an AIS in the southern Indian Ocean.
“Our results demonstrate the potential of using animals as Ocean Sentinels for operational conservation,” the researchers wrote about their “proof of concept” mission, which is part of a European program that encourages the development of innovations that help with data collection for conservation with the help of animals.
So far, the mission is also being tested in Hawaii and New Zealand. The technology can also be used with other animals such as sea turtles and sharks.
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