Narwhals, notwithstanding their unicorn-like tusks, are a mysterious species. They live in distant Arctic regions and hunt as deep as 1,000 meters down.
They orient themselves using echolocation, making clicking sounds to explore their surroundings. When they hunt, the clicking sounds turn into buzzing sounds as the interval times shorten.
In the pre-drone days, researchers relied on their observations of the orcas when they surfaced, and this was understandably limited.
“Until now, research on killer whale social networks has relied on seeing the whales when they surface, and recording which whales are together," said lead author Michael Weiss, of the University of Exeter.
"Looking down into the water from a drone allowed us to see details such as contact between individual whales," he added.
Inspired by this, the engineers at Rutgers University–New Brunswick have developed a 3D-printed smart gel that changes shape when exposed to light, as well as a 3D-printed stretchy material that can reveal colours when the light changes.
A paper on the research has been published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.
This scenario may one day become reality. And to be efficient, such robots would need to be maneuverable and stealthy, and be able to closely mimic the movements of the marine creatures.
Scientists like Keith W. Moored are working on the next generation of underwater robots by studying the movements of dolphins and whales. "We're studying how these animals are designed and what's beneficial about that design in terms of their swimming performance, or the fluid mechanics of how they swim."