What does a shark actually see from its perspective? How does it spend its time, where/why does it travel, and how does it eat? Well, we now have a better idea — new research from the University of Hawaii and the University of Tokyo has revealed, for the first time, a shark’s eye view of the world.
Researchers at those institutions have outfitted a number of sharks with sophisticated sensors and video recorders that allow them to measure exactly where they are going, how they are getting there, and what they are doing once they reach their destinations.
The researchers are also piloting a related project that uses instruments ‘eaten’ by sharks, and other ocean predators like tuna, to better understand the eating habits of said animals. Electrical measurements are taken and used to track the ingestion, digestion, and absorption of prey.
“What we are doing is really trying to fill out the detail of what their role is in the ocean,” explained Carl Meyer, an assistant researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “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.”
The press release from the American Geophysical Union provides more:
Using the sensors and video recorders, the researchers captured unprecedented images of sharks of different species swimming in schools, interacting with other fish and moving in repetitive loops across the sea bed. They also found that sharks used powered swimming more often than a gliding motion to move through the ocean, contrary to what scientists had previously thought, and that deep-sea sharks swim in slow motion compared to shallow water species.
Sharks are at the top of the ocean food chain, Meyer noted, making them an important part of the marine ecosystem, and knowing more about these fish helps scientists better understand the flow of energy through the ocean. Until now, sharks have mainly been observed in captivity, and have been tracked only to see where they traveled.
These new observations could help shape conservation and resource management efforts, and inform public safety measures, Holland said. The instruments being used by scientists to study feeding habits could also have commercial uses, including for aquaculture, he added.
“These instrument packages are like flight data recorders for sharks,” Meyer stated. “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.”
The new findings were formally presented at the 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting co-sponsored by the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, The Oceanography Society and the American Geophysical Union.
Image Credit: Mark Royer/University of Hawaii