Tracking swimming PIs, first tag & release and Marinha to the rescue

12 May 2014

Tracking swimming PIs, first tag & release and Marinha to the rescue

Joao and Kanna with the tagged styrofoam Mola swimming off the coast of Vila Real de Santo Antonio and being tracked by an X8 at 100m.
Joao and Kanna with the tagged styrofoam Mola swimming off the coast of Vila Real de Santo Antonio and being tracked by an X8 at 100m.
Debugging the catapult. From left: Filipe, Joao, Fortuna and Joel.
Launching an X8 with lots of eyes and video cameras to evaluate the catapult alteration.
Mola with SPOT-13 tag being released from the Tunipex boat.
Another Mola, this with an ARGOS tag being released. The release was near the tuna pen off of Olhao.
Mola with the ARGOS tag taking off.
A job well done. Ana and Lara at the end of the day late afternoon after tagging.
Nuno leading a discussion of the correlation between a test Mola's tracks the previous week,  with three Mola's tagged this morning.
End of day briefing and its attendees.

With the R/V Diplodus, our ostensible ship, out of commision, one would have thought Monday, the original start date of the experiment, would be a little slow. Apparently not. Not only did the first tagging of Mola take place by our biology friends (for subsequent tracking), but we also flew additional UAV flights including trying to identify Mola's (and tags) from 100m up. Not only that; we were also gratified by the response from our friends in the Portuguese Navy, the Marinha.


At the crack of dawn, Lara, Ana, Nuno and Azorian visitor Jorge Fontes set out to tag the Molas; 5 in the morning (2 SPOTS and 3 ARGOS) and 5 in the afternoon. This effectively involves (for now) transporting Mola's in our holding tank on shore, in the Tuna pen operator's (Tunipex of Olhao) vessel and on the way to the pen, tagging them and releasing them, much as the above images show. Much to our disappointment, the ARGOS tags have not worked well thus far even if the originally suspect SPOTS have. One can see on the HUB, 3 SPOTS from today's tagging session, already showing up and surprisingly heading in the same general direction our Monday 5th 'test' Mola did. All of us, with Nuno and Javier in the lead are trying to correlate various data sources (including looking for frontal zones) to see why this is the case.


Meanwhile, the UAV team left a little later in the morning towards its new flying grounds in the marsh lands of Vila Real, with the intent of trying to fly over water to identify the styrofoam Mola tagged with an ARGOS and a SPOT, to determine what they would 'see' with their fancy camera. Their first launch was a turbulent take off; on analysis by Filipe, it seemed that there was a fundamental design flaw with the way the carbon fiber supports were holding the launch bars which hold the X8's wings. When joined by Kanna and Joao, the team caucused and came up with a number of alternative designs; but it was Joel's idea that perhaps we were propelling the vehicle with too much force leading to ossilating launch bars. On closer examination of the launch video, that did seem to be the case. So we adopted his suggestion of reducing the tension in the rubber bungee chords by removing one from each side, while making the remaining chord a little more taut. (Head) wind conditions also helped and subsequent launches seemed to go well. And we all felt good to be problem solving on out feet!


With that out of the way, the PI's gladly jumped in the the warm waters of the Algarve (known so as 'al-garve al-andalus' or west of andalucia by the Moors). This was clearly fullfilling an important scientific goal, even if one not endorsed by the funding agencies!!! Joao and Kanna happily took the styrofaom Mola to the warm and calm waters of the Algarve with nary a person on the splendid beaches, and pretended to be the Molas, but being buzzed often by an X8 flying passes, fancy camera looking down. Post-mission images clearly show that spotting a Mola sized target is doable, if not the tag itself. The X8 was guided by the lat/long broadcast by both the ARGOS and SPOT tags. Why the ARGOS worked here and not with the tagged fish from the morning is a bit of a mystery.


With their swimming (ah...I mean WORK) done, the PIs and the UAV team packed up to go to the farm house and Joao and Kanna went to check on the Diplodus. Alas with no affect. A missing part in the propulsion system's gearbox could not be found in Portugal. And there was no estimate on when the ship would be back in action. This was a massive blow. 


But just that morning, a pleasant surprise with a call from the Marinha, the Portuguese Navy. A fast coastal patrol ship of the ARGOS (yes, we have a lot of ARGOS's on this project) class was indeed available for our use, caveat any emergencies the ships captain had to respond to. The only catch was that the ship was based in Vilamoura, a 45 minute commute from our shore base in the farm house. At this stage, we had not much of a choice given the state of the Diplodus. 


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So to take advantage of this offer, Joao Pereira, Ze and Reanto immediately jumped into a car to move the Xplorer-1 from the Ohlao to Vilamoura in preparation for using the ARGOS vessel for an AUV survey around the tagged Mola's from this morning.


Plans made and written down and posted on the walls, a take out was ordered and the day wound down with a late dinner and the realization that what is often planned isn't necessarily what we end up doing. A powerful lesson to the young amonst us.