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Although they first emerged during the Cretaceous period, 64 million years ago, more and more sharks are now finding their way onto the endangered species list.
In an attempt to better understand and, hopefully, preserve the ancient predators researchers from the University of Hawaii and the University of Tokyo have outfitted the sharks themselves with high tech sensors and video recorders.
Scientists hope that by seeing a shark’s world from a shark’s point of view they will gain new insight into the creature’s behaviors.
The team is, simultaneously, testing a project using instruments ingested by some of the ocean’s top predators, including sharks, to learn more about the animal’s feeding habits and digestion. The hope is that learning what, how much, when and where they eat will give scientists new insights into how to preserve the species.
“What we are doing is really trying to fill out the detail of what their role is in the ocean,” said 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.”
Using sensors and recording equipment, researchers captured never before seen images of different species of sharks schooling, interacting among themselves and other fish and moving along the sea bed. Among other things they learned that sharks used active, powered swimming more often than gliding to move through the ocean. This contradicts what many scientists had previously believed.
“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.”
Meyer and Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology researcher Kim Holland presented their findings on February 27 at the 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting in Honolulu.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the primary threats to sharks are fishing, bycatch and habitat loss. Sharks themselves are caught for their meat, especially for Asian shark fin soup. Even when they are not the intended targets of fishermen, they are frequently caught along with other fish (bycatch) and killed. Sharks also face a decline in habitat due to development, pollution and the over-fishing of species sharks rely on as prey.
The 2006 documentary Sharkwater called attention to the plight and misunderstood nature of sharks. It sparked discussions worldwide and, as a result, shark fin bans have been implemented in 27 countries and the European Union.
A global study of shark populations released earlier this year states that one quarter of shark and ray species are currently threatened with extinction. Researchers hope that these new findings will help to shape resource management and conservation efforts as well as contribute to public safety information.
The video below shows only a small portion of the data captured. It shows, among other things, a Galapagos shark swimming with a mackerel stand and in formation with a second shark. It also shows a sandbar shark swimming in a mixed school of other sharks, and pursuing a female.