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Scientists Mount Cameras on Sharks to Learn More About Behavior

Camera Mounted on Shark

Scientists in Hawaii mounted video cameras to reef sharks revealing how they navigate the ocean.

Researchers at the University of Hawaii and the University of Tokyo mounted the sharks with sophisticated sensors and video recorders to measure and see where they are going, how they are getting there, and what they are doing once they reach their destinations.

"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 statement. "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 instruments provided scientists with a "shark's eye" view of the ocean and greater understanding of the lives of these fish in their natural environment.

The new instrument packages that Meyer and Katsufumi Sato, of the University of Tokyo, attached to sharks off the coast of Hawaii are sensitive enough that the researchers can construct three-dimensional models of how these animals swim.

Instruments called accelerometers and magnetometers record the details of a shark's position in the water, measuring the animal's acceleration and the magnetic field around it. Other instruments measure the depth and water temperature.

The instruments that the animals ate tracked their ingestion and digestion of prey. This can help researchers understand when and how much and what exactly sharks and other predators are eating.

Meyer says these instruments are like having "a flight data recorder for sharks." And attaching video cameras to some of the sharks "helps us interpret what those data mean."

“It has really drawn back the veil on what these animals do and answered some longstanding questions,” Meyer said.

One video captured a sandbar shark in the morning at 300 feet below the ocean’s surface before joining a school of other sandbar sharks, ocean blacktips and scalloped hammerheads that "spiraled up like a shark tornado," Meyer told National Geographic.

Another video captured a sandbar shark leisurely swimming along a reef, then suddenly darting away as it rushed to meet up with a female sandbar.

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.

A "shark's eye" view

Scientists at the University of Hawaii and the University of Tokyo are attaching sophisticated sensors and video cameras to sharks, giving them a "shark's eye" view of the ocean and revealing new findings about how sharks swim and live in their natural environment. The new research is being 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.

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