The SharkCam, an underwater autonomous vehicle repurposed by Discovery Channel to film great white sharks in their native habitat, became the recipient of a few exploratory chomps by the marine predators.
If you’re one of those people who doesn't like having your picture taken, here's some dubious advice courtesy of a great white shark: try to eat the camera.
Discovery Channel's website recently featured a series of videos of sharks inspecting, intimidating, and even attacking an underwater vehicle that was filming the marine predators in their native habitat.
Discovery News featured an edited compilation of these interactions with great whites made by researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI). The video shows curious sharks swimming around the camera and occasionally attacking it and seeming somewhat confused when their prey isn’t immediately crushed between their powerful jaws.
The footage comes from a Discovery-sponsored autonomous underwater vehicle called the SharkCam, on a 2013 expedition to study sharks in waters near Guadalupe Island, off Baja Mexico's west coast.
According to Woods Hole's website, the five-foot-long, 80-lb., torpedo-shaped SharkCam is equipped with six GoPro video cameras, giving scientists a spectacular panoramic view of the autonomous vehicle's surroundings.
The SharkCam is actually a REMUS (Remote Environmental Monitoring UnitS) that has been modified to follow sharks tagged with a special acoustic transponder. The vehicle can dive to a depth of 100 meters (328 feet) and can be equipped with a number of sensors to fulfill the requirements of the mission at hand.
The project has been giving scientists an unprecedented look at the behavior of great white sharks in the wild. In the video, for instance, one can clearly see the shark seeming to roll its eyes back into its head as it chomps down. This is actually an incredibly close view of the shark’s nictitating membrane, which closes over the eye to protect it from thrashing prey as it strikes.
While the footage of attacking sharks from the perspective of the SharkCam can seem somewhat terrifying, the reality is that shark attacks on humans are very rare. In fact, out of over 200 million visitors to US beaches every year, there are only about 36 people who are attacked by sharks. Each year, an average of 4.2 attacks are fatal worldwide. According to the ocean conservation nonprofit Oceana, for every human killed by a shark, 25 million sharks are killed by humans.
For researchers at the WHOI, sharks are only the beginning. Plans are currently underway to use the REMUS system to study other marine life such as sea turtles, according to their website.
While videos of sea turtles might be less dramatic, researchers probably won’t have to worry as much about getting teeth marks in their expensive scientific equipment.