Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)
So far, actuated fish models have been used to study animal interactions in small-scale controlled experiments. This study, conducted in a semi-controlled setting, investigates robot 5 interactions with a large wild-caught marine fish school (similar to 3000 individuals) in their natural social environment. Two towed fish robots were used to decouple size, tail motion and speed in a series of sea-cage experiments. Using high-resolution imaging sonar and sonar-video blind scoring, we monitored and classified the school's collective reaction towards the fish robots as attraction or avoidance. We found that two key releasers-the size and the speed of the robotic fish-were responsible for triggering either evasive reactions or following responses. At the same time, we found fish reactions to the tail motion to be insignificant. The fish evaded a fast-moving robot even if it was small. However, mackerels following propensity was greater towards a slow small robot. When moving slowly, the larger robot triggered significantly more avoidance responses than a small robot. Our results suggest that the collective responses of a large school exposed to a robotic fish could be manipulated by tuning two principal releasers-size and speed. These results can help to design experimental methods for in situ observations of wild fish schools or to develop underwater robots for guiding and interacting with free-ranging aggregated aquatic organisms.