Researchers will help DARPA detect undersea activity by analyzing behaviors of black sea bass

May 31, 2019

Incorporation of biological signals will extend range, lifetime, and performance of undersea surveillance technologies in strategic waters

Black sea bass and other marine species are set to be the unlikely heroes of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors (PALS) program. Five teams of researchers, including the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) Chesapeake Biological Laboratory’s Drs. David Secor, Helen Bailey, and Vyacheslav Lyubchich, are developing new types of sensor systems that detect and record the behaviors of these marine organisms and interpret them to identify, characterize, and report on the presence of manned and unmanned underwater vehicles operating in strategic waters. This new, bio-centric PALS technology will augment the Department of Defense’s existing, hardware-based maritime monitoring systems and greatly extend the range, sensitivity, and lifetime of the military’s undersea surveillance capabilities.

The team led by the UMCES Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, under principal investigators Drs. David SecorHelen Bailey, and Vyacheslav Lyubchich, will tag black sea bass with sensors to track the depth and acceleration behaviors of schools of fish that are perturbed by underwater vehicles.

“By partnering with DARPA on this innovative program, we’ll be able to use black sea bass as a living sensor system while building on the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory’s rich tradition of conducting fundamental research that supports societal needs.” explains Bailey.

DARPA first announced the PALS program in February 2018 with the goal of incorporating biology into new solutions for monitoring adversary movements across the seemingly endless spaces of the world’s oceans and seas. Ubiquitous, self-replicating, self-sustaining sea life is adaptable and highly responsive to its environment, whereas maritime hardware is resource intensive, costly to deploy, and relatively limited in its sensing modalities. According to PALS program manager Lori Adornato, “Tapping into the exquisite sensing capabilities of marine organisms could yield a discreet, persistent, and highly scalable solution to maintaining awareness in the challenging underwater environment.”

The DARPA-funded PALS teams must develop or apply technologies to record stimulus responses from observed organisms, and develop combined hardware and software systems that interpret those responses, screen out false positives, and transmit analyzed results to remote end users. The teams’ solutions will incorporate technologies such as hydrophones, sonar, cameras, and magnetic, acoustic, and kinetic sensors.

Learn more about DARPA’s PALS program, and other research efforts being undertaken through this effort, online at: