Unique Program Uses Unmanned Craft to Monitor Bats in Offshore Environment


Saildrone, a provider of ocean data using uncrewed surface vehicles (USVs), and Bat Conservation International (BCI), a global conservation organization, have completed a mission to study bats in an offshore environment using an ultrasonic microphone mounted on a Saildrone USV.

“With a zero operational carbon footprint, no impact to the marine ecosystem, a diverse payload, and the ability to stay at sea for extended lengths of time, Saildrone is ideally suited to provide never-before-collected information about offshore bat migration patterns,” says BCI’s Michael Whitby. “This important information will allow us to understand and minimize the potential impacts of offshore wind energy development on bat populations.”

The mission is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy in collaboration with EPRI, an independent, nonprofit energy research and development organization. The goal is to help demonstrate the viability of the Saildrone platform as a tool for bat research and environmental impact assessments to evaluate the risk of offshore wind energy development to bats.

“The need to monitor bats in the offshore environment is increasing,” says Christian Newman, technical executive for environmental aspects of renewables, EPRI. “EPRI’s expertise and focus on collaboration supports the project team well, helping test a new type of technology that can help fill in data gaps for offshore wind decision-makers.”

One Saildrone USV equipped with an ultrasonic microphone in addition to the standard Saildrone sensor suite spent 31 nights sampling near a known offshore bat migratory roost on South Farallon Island, approximately 25 nm west of the Golden Gate Bridge. During the mission, the saildrone recorded at least three species of bats and 830 individual bat calls.

Saildrone’s underwater acoustic data collection includes surveys of fish biomass for sustainable fisheries management and has previously used sound to track sharks, marine mammal, and crustaceans. The company is currently developing new underwater acoustic technology to detect, classify and localize marine mammals, especially whales, which are highly sensitive to underwater noise.

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