Collective responses of a large mackerel school depend on the size and speed of a robotic fish but not on tail motion Articles uri icon

publication date

  • October 2016

start page

  • 056020


  • 5


  • 11

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1748-3182

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1748-3190


  • 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.


  • Computer Science
  • Robotics and Industrial Informatics


  • biorobotics; collective behaviour; animal-robot interaction; atlantic mackerel; underwater robot; fish robot; information-transfer; killer whales; aspect ratio; behavior; escape; performance; frequency; atlantic; shoals; score