An underwater drone studies great white shark behavior in a new type of research that has been deemed “ground-breaking” for the field. It’s an important step forward in answering the many questions that decades of research have left behind. Even though they’re one of the most popular species of animals on the planet, sharks are still mainly mysterious.
A team of marine biologists from WHOI designed the REMUS SharkCam autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), which was deployed in 2013. For the first time, scientists can rely on observations of shark behavior deep within the waters. Up until now, studies could only assess information gathered from the surface or diving. The underwater drone was able to delve deeper, both literally and figuratively.
According to one of the main investigators, Amy Kukulya, they wanted to prove that the REMUS SharkCam was a viable tool at observing underwater animals. In this case, the enigmatic great white shark was the target. Its purpose was to provide insightful information about their behavior and habitat. The hope was that it will answer many questions that past research has left unexplored.
In November 2013, the team deployed their AUV off coast of Guadalupe Island in Mexico. The area is known for its population of great white sharks due to its choice destination for seals, one of their main prey. The idea of the project was to track down the sharks and followed them into the depths of the ocean to study their behavior.
The SharkCam had interactions with 10 different sharks in the 13 hours worth of filmed footage. Out of the bunch, four of them were already tagged by the team, and the rest of six wandered around into the party by themselves. That brought the number up to 30 interactions between the underwater drone and the sharks. Not all of them were friendly, considered the AUV was dedicated to following them around, paired with incessant buzzing.
Some of the sharks only curiously approached the AUV, looked at it, and then went on their way. However, that was not always the case.
The drone was bumped aggressively by the sharks or bitten at viciously from below with furious attacks. This brought forward a remarkable observation and confirmation of a popular hypothesis, that sharks ambush from the dark. The study confirmed that sharks can dive up to 655 feet (200 meters) below the surface into order to catch prey.
They venture into the darkened waters, looking up through the clearer surface. Their prey becomes outlined by the sun’s light overhead, and then they mount their attack.
The team once again delved the drone into the water last month, so more observations are incoming. However, their project proved the validity of the REMUS SharkCam in studying the underwater behavior of marine creatures. It could potentially answer numerous more questions, especially about the enigmatic great white shark. This could range from social behavior to reproductive habits.
Image source: discovery.com