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Using drones to improve the estimation of the dolphin abundance
Press release

18 Nov 2019

The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission , in coordination with the Comision Nacional de Acuacultura y Pesca (CONAPESCA) of the Government of Mexico and with the support of the Instituto Nacional de Pesca y Acuacultura of Mexico (INAPESCA), the Mexican tuna industry, and the Center for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling (CREEM) at the University of St Andrews (USTAN), is undertaking a ship-based survey to estimate the abundance of dolphin populations in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean (EPO) and improve management of those populations and the EPO ecosystem. The ecology of this region is a very unusual due to the association between tunas and dolphins, which come together to form dynamic aggregations, a result of special oceanographic conditions. This association allows purseseine fishermen to locate tunas by searching for schools of dolphins at the sea surface, particularly schools of spotted, eastern spinner and common dolphins (Figure 1). The first phase of the survey, which has been recently completed, lasted 14 days during which research was carried out with the use of drones operated from an oceanographic vessel. This unprecedented experiment will make it possible to establish the appropriate technology and methods to be used in the next phase of the project.

A novel research plan using drones

Armed with a novel research plan developed by researchers at CREEM 37, on the morning of 17 November 2019, an international research team sailed out from Mazatl├ín, Mexico, aboard the R/V Dr Jorge Carranza Fraser of the INAPESCA for the 14-day research trip. The team was led by Dr Cornelia Oedekoven of USTAN and Dr Cleridy Lennert-Cody of IATTC, and composed of scientists, drone pilots and mechanics from four different countries (Mexico, USA, Germany and Chinese Taipei). 

Full press release