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Angle-dependent acoustic reflectivity of gillnets and their modifications to reduce bycatch of odontocetes using sonar imaging

Incidental capture in gillnets is the most pressing threat for small cetaceans worldwide. One reason why small, echolocating cetaceans entangle in gillnets may be their inability to acoustically detect gillnets and classify them as obstacles. To increase the overall acoustic reflectivity as well as alter the perceived image to simulate an impenetrable barrier, small reflective objects – 8 mm wide acrylic glass spheres – were attached to standard gillnets. This study investigates the acoustic reflectivity of standard gillnets and modified gillnets with different numbers of spheres/m2, at several angles of ensonification across a large frequency range. The acoustic reflectivity of standard gillnets is very low and decreases with angle of ensonification. Gillnets equipped with the spheres have substantially higher acoustic backscattering strength, and exhibit a positive relation between backscattering strength and inclination, i.e. gillnets ensonified from an angle have an even larger echo than when ensonified perpendicularly. Gillnets with sphere-sphere distance of 20 cm perform best, while the acoustic backscatter of gillnets with 40 cm and 60 cm sphere-distances is similar. The acoustic image (echogram) of the gillnet with spheres demonstrates a distinct highly visible acoustic pattern, potentially rendering the spheres an effective way to reduce bycatch of small cetaceans.



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