Have you ever wondered why the Celtic Sea, located off the south coast of Ireland, is home to so many marine predators? No? Well, scientists at Britain’s National Oceanography Centre have. This month they set about finding out, using a long-endurance autonomous surface vehicle known as the C-Enduro.

"The Celtic Sea contains known hotspots for iconic and highly mobile marine animals such as the mighty fin whale," says project coordinator Prof. Russell Wynn. "However, we need a greater density of observations to really understand why these hotspots are so attractive to these animals … Marine robotic technologies give us the opportunity to have a persistent presence in these areas, and are changing the way in which we conduct science in the marine environment."

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That’s where the C-Enduro comes in.

Made by ASV Unmanned Marine Systems, the 350-kg (772-lb) solar, wind and diesel-powered catamaran was launched from the Welsh town of Milford Haven on August 20th. For this particular study, it’s equipped with GoPro cameras, marine mammal acoustic detectors and a meteorological station.

Because it draws power from solar panels and a wind turbine, it could potentially remain at sea for up to three months, with its two brushless motors providing a maximum speed of 7 knots (13 km/h or 8 mph) via two propulsion pods. Even if it capsizes during that period, its self-righting carbon fiber hull should quickly get it back upright.

Although the craft is autonomous, ASV will be controlling some aspects of its operation by satellite from the company’s base in the English village of Portchester. An onboard collision-avoidance system will help keep the vessel from running into other watercraft.

The study is partially supported by the World Wildlife Fund, and also involves the use of an autonomous Slocum submarine glider. You can see the C-Enduro in action, in the silent video below.

Sources: National Oceanography Centre, ASV

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