Nfld. & Labrador

Need images of the ocean floor? Unleash the Kraken Katfish

Kraken Sonar Systems, a small company in Conception Bay South, is attracting interest from all over the world for its device for underwater ocean imaging.

Conception Bay South company attracts attention for its underwater sonar system

This is a model of the Kraken Katfish, an underwater imaging device developed by Kraken Sonar Systems in Conception Bay South. (Kraken Sonar Systems)

Kraken Sonar Systems, a small company in Conception Bay South, is attracting interest from all over the world for its device for underwater ocean imaging.

The Kraken Active Towfish, or Katfish as the company calls it, is about 3.6 metres long, weighs 225 kilograms, and looks like a bright yellow torpedo. It's built to be towed underwater by a ship.

Aboard the Katfish is an advanced sonar imaging system.

I think the strangest thing we found was probably a small motorcycle.- David Shea

David Shea, Kraken Sonar System's vice-president of engineering, said an increasing number of companies need to know what exactly what is on the ocean floor.

"Whether it's mineral exploration and oil exploration, or whether you need security. If you're looking for seabed mines, making sure there's nothing there that could possibly damage a ship or cause any issues in the future," explained Shea.

"If you're doing any fishing applications, you want to make sure there's nothing there that could mess or wreck any of your fishing gear."

Ocean floor still a bit of a mystery

Even in this age of satellite imagery and Google Maps, Shea said there is still relatively little known about what the ocean floor looks like.

Sonar technology, which sends sound pulses through water and converts the returning echoes into digital images, is still the best way to get a clear picture, he said.

A tow rope on the ocean floor. The image on the left is taken with side scan sonar, and the image on the right is taken by a Kraken sonar imaging system. (Kraken Sonar Systems)

Kraken Sonar specializes in next-generation Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Sonar, which gives high resolution images, similar to those of a photograph.

Shea said the Katfish is designed to be a steady platform for the sonar system in rough conditions, such as high winds and heaving sea.

"A normal ship-mounted [sonar] system would not work very well because the ship is going to be very unstable in these kinds of weather conditions," said Shea.

"The advantage of the Katfish, because it's towed behind the ship, it's decoupled from the ship's motion, so it's independent of the ship.

Shea said because of that, the Katfish is able to stabilize itself below the water's surface.

"It rides below the waves, it's not affected by wind or waves, and it can maintain a constant altitude above the seabed while it's doing its surveys."

Combining technologies

Shea said several companies around the world work with sonar systems similar to Kraken, and at least one other company makes underwater towed vessels.

However, Kraken is the only company he knows of that makes the underwater vessel with the sonar system built in.

The company has already sold one Kraken Katfish to an international defence contractor, and another sale is in the works.

Shea said salvage companies, survey companies and others worldwide are making inquiries about the Katfish.

Some ocean mysteries revealed

Shea said the company's work with sonar systems and sea testing of the Katfish has made the ocean floor less mysterious to him.

He said Kraken's sonar has revealed some fascinating underwater land formations and the occasional shipwreck, but much of what is down there is less exotic.

"I think the strangest thing we found was probably a small motorcycle, a pocket motorcycle, in Holyrood Arm," said Shea.

"It's just in the middle of the bay, it must have fallen off someone's ship. There's a toilet out there, lots of spare tires all over the place, lots of shipping containers, just junk."

About the Author

Heather Barrett is the host and producer of Weekend AM on CBC Radio One in Newfoundland and Labrador.

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