Science And Space

Floating googly eyes on a stick scare seabirds away from fishing nets

buoy with eyes

Birds steer clear of buoys fitted with eyes

Andres Kalamees

Buoys fitted with cartoon-like eyes act a little bit like scarecrows, preserving seabirds safely away from areas of the ocean the place they could get caught in fishing nets.

An estimated 400,000 diving birds drown every year once they turn into entangled in vertically oriented gillnets that cling down in water between floats or buoys.


In a bid to scale back the loss of life toll, a group of fowl conservation researchers led by Yann Rouxel on the BirdLife Worldwide Marine Programme in Glasgow, UK, has developed and examined a way of turning the buoys into marine scarecrows.

Researchers beforehand hoped LED lighting would alert seabirds to the practically clear nets, however the birds acquired snarled and drowned anyway, says Rouxel. Then his group observed that digital, transferring eyes on the screens surrounding airport runways efficiently hold birds away from planes. They determined to adapt the idea to be used by fishing trade, with a tool that wants no electrical energy to run, and is each light-weight and cheap.

Based mostly on earlier research about seabird imaginative and prescient and what modifications their flight patterns and mind exercise, the researchers created a Looming-Eyes Buoy (LEB) prototype out of carbon and metal. It contains a panel that rotates within the wind a bit like a climate vane. On one facet of the panel the researchers added a small pair of eyes; on the alternative facet they added a bigger pair of eyes, in order that because the system spins it gives the look of a wierd creature that’s showing, or looming, within the field of regard.

“The wind modifications rather a lot, in order that creates a looming eye motion that’s onerous to foretell and will hold the birds from habituating [getting used to the threat] too shortly,” says Rouxel.

This form of looming phenomenon has been proven to set off “collision neurons” in fowl brains to stop them from operating into objects or one another, he says.

The researchers tailored the dimensions and distinction of the cartoon eyes to be detectable by Canada Geese (Branta canadensis), which have among the many worst eyesight of all seabirds. They used eye-to-pupil ratios that had been proven to extend muscular pressure – a potential signal of consciousness of hazard in chickens in a earlier research they usually added white crescent marks on the pupils to provide them a extra sensible 3D impact.

The group then hooked up the eyes to buoys to aluminium poles, and set them 100 metres aside in Estonia’s Küdema Bay, which has a big inhabitants of overwintering long-tailed geese (Clangula hyemalis). They counted birds for 4 hours a day, earlier than and after putting the LEBs through the 62-day research interval.

They discovered that the variety of long-tailed geese dropped by as much as 25 per cent inside a 50-metre radius of every LEB. The impact was comparatively long-lasting: it was solely after two or three weeks that the birds started to swim nearer to the buoys, says Rouxel. And seasonal modifications or different influences might have defined that as nicely, he says.

Even so, gillnets normally solely keep in a given place for a couple of days at a time, so it’s much less probably the birds would get used to the buoys in an actual fishing state of affairs, says Rouxel.

Journal reference: Royal Society Open Science, DOI: 10.1098/rsos.210225

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