Cameras give researchers a "shark's eye" view of the sea

A sixgill shark with a combined sensor and video recorder attached to it swims through the ocean. The instruments are giving scientists a “shark’s eye” view of the ocean and revealing new findings about shark behavior, according to research being presented at the Ocean Sciences Meeting.
Mark Royer/University of Hawaii

With their reputation for danger, sharks can be a difficult animal to study. But researchers at the University of Hawaii and the University of Tokyo have found an interesting solution: they're strapping cameras onto the sharks' fins.

The cameras offer a unique way of studying how the sharks eat, swim and live. More than 30 sharks were outfitted with cameras, sensors and transmitters.

"What we are doing is really trying to fill out the detail of what their role is in the ocean," Carl Meyer, an assistant researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said in a press release. "It is all about getting a much deeper understanding of sharks' ecological role in the ocean, which is important to the health of the ocean and, by extension, to our own well-being."

To mount the cameras, Science Now reports, the researchers flipped the sharks on their backs, which puts them into a calm, trance-like state known as "tonic immobility."

So far, the cameras have shown that sharks use powered swimming more often than they glide, which ran counter to the researchers' expectations. They've also learned that deep-sea sharks swim slower than shallow-water species.

"These instrument packages are like flight data recorders for sharks," Meyer said. "They allow us to quantify a variety of different things that we haven't been able to quantify before."

"It has really drawn back the veil on what these animals do and answered some longstanding questions," he added.

The research is the latest to add sensors as a way to track marine creatures, but the first to add video footage.

At the University of Miami, researchers are attaching satellite-linked tags to sharks and several fish species in order to track habitat and conservation information. The fish-tagging program started in 2001, with sharks first tagged in 2010. Recently, the researchers also started using the data to help predict the intensity of hurricanes.