Sue L’Orsa


Sue L’Orsa, glider technician




Dalhousie University



Students and trainees come to the Ocean Tracking Network (OTN) from a variety of backgrounds. The majority of former co-op students on the glider team, having undertaken honours or graduate studies as part of OTN, have found careers in the growing field of autonomous environmental monitoring.

How did you come to work for the OTN glider team?

I started volunteering with OTN, researching international welfare standards for fish. I also assisted the field team by servicing gear and tagging Atlantic salmon. Later, I was introduced to the glider group and the rest is history.

What do you enjoy most about gliders?

I’ve enjoyed learning how gliders work and how they’ve been designed to maximize efficiency in a marine environment. The individual parts of a glider are quite simple, but when combined, they make an impressive exploration tool. And while the technology isn’t really new, the use of it is.

With whom, and how, do you collaborate?

Gliders are part of several research initiatives. We’ve been working closely with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) from the beginning, collecting data along the Halifax Line—OTN’s first and longest line of acoustic receivers—as part of the DFO Atlantic Zone Monitoring Program. These data are also used by OTN researchers for ocean modelling and to provide environmental context for animal-tracking research.

In Cape Breton, we work with DFO, Emera Inc. and harvesters to track snow crab in the Cabot Strait, which are integral to local fisheries and livelihoods.

Together with the MEOPAR Whales Habitat and Listening Experiment (WHaLE), we also equip gliders with echosounders and hydrophones to identify feeding grounds and migration routes for whales, including the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

Our glider group was one of Canada’s first, so we’ve gained a lot of experience with gliders and now work with newer groups across the country to familiarize them with the technology.

Describe the benefits of using glider technology to collect animal-movement data.

Gliders are key to providing data and environmental context for animal tracking—they can detect tagged animals, actively monitor areas where detections have been heard, and observe changes in the ocean climate.

Why are gliders an important tool for ocean scientists?

The benefits of research gliders are huge—they’re cost effective, environmentally friendly and provide high-quality data. They can be out 24 hours a day for months at a time during bad weather and in areas that can be difficult to access. Where most new ocean monitoring technology is a step, gliders are a leap.

What aspects of glider work would surprise people?

Glider work is not limited to deployment and retrieval—we work with scientists to design mission objectives, plans, and risk assessments. Before every mission, we collect data on currents, active fisheries in the area, vessel traffic, potential weather events and solar input. People are often surprised that we can pilot gliders from any place with an internet connection. Some missions require 24-hour-a-day piloting, but I’ve also piloted from a smartphone on the road while travelling across the country.

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