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Emma Cotter and Brian Polagye


Multibeam sonars are widely used for environmental monitoring of fauna at marine renewable energy sites. However, they can rapidly accrue vast volumes of data, which poses a challenge for data processing. Here, using data from a deployment in a tidal channel with peak currents of 1–2 m s−1, we demonstrate the data-reduction benefits of real-time automatic classification of targets detected and tracked in multibeam sonar data. First, we evaluate classification capabilities for three machine learning algorithms: random forests, support vector machines, and k-nearest neighbors. For each algorithm, a hill-climbing search optimizes a set of hand-engineered attributes that describe tracked targets. The random forest algorithm is found to be most effective—in postprocessing, discriminating between biological and nonbiological targets with a recall rate of 0.97 and a precision of 0.60. In addition, 89% of biological targets are correctly classified as either seals, diving birds, fish schools, or small targets. Model dependence on the volume of training data is evaluated. Second, a real-time implementation of the model is shown to distinguish between biological targets and nonbiological targets with nearly the same performance as in postprocessing. From this, we make general recommendations for implementing real-time classification of biological targets in multibeam sonar data and the transferability of trained models.

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