White shark kinematics

Great white shark research project

What do great white sharks get up to underwater? 'Swimming' would be a safe bet, but what else? White shark kinematics gives us a more detailed look into their movements.

Similarly to White Shark Tracking, kinematics involves collecting behavioural data from sharks swimming in the wild. The key difference however, is that much of this data is in the form of imagery. Specifically, video footage collected via camera attached directly to the shark’s fin.

It might not be frickin’ laser beams, but it’s not far off.

To achieve this, we spend a considerable amount of time at sea waiting for the right shark to appear. Whether a shark is ‘right’ is determined by a number of factors such as size, sex and whether we’ve tagged a similar one before. Variety is useful in avoiding bias.

We then deploy a camera tag to the animal’s dorsal fin, positioned in such a way that we essentially get a first-person perspective on the shark’s activities. The material holding the clamp in place eventually erodes, detaching the camera which must then be collected manually.

Sometimes, you’re lucky and the tag washes up at a local beach. Other times, it ends up lost at sea during a crappy day and you’re looking at several hours to retrieve it.

Once collected, all video footage and data gets downloaded to a local machine, where it’s organised for review. This process is where the excitement really begins. And by excitement, I mean the exact opposite of excitement.

One of the team needs to watch every second of video footage and log anything of interest. Changes in the shark’s direction or movement speed, the appearance of other wildlife and the shark’s reaction, changes in visibility etc.

Depending on what the shark’s been up to, this can be painfully dull or absolutely mind blowing. We’ve witnessed some behaviours that we’d only previously hypothesised over. Simply sharing in a snapshot of their daily existence feels an absolute treat.

This project is hosted by the Monterrey Bay Aquarium which both collects and compares data in US waters and surrounding Dyer Island, South Africa. Key researchers include Taylor Chapple, Sal Jorgensen, Adrian Gleiss, Paul Kanive and Oliver Jewell.

I’ve accompanied the team on two of their South Africa expeditions since 2014. This is in both a technical capacity, assisting with work on the boats and helping to analyse the resultant data.

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