Cryptic habitat use of white sharks in kelp forest revealed by animal-borne video

Great white shark research project

Do great white sharks swim through kelp to hunt seals?

The White Shark Kinematics project has taught us a considerable amount about white shark behaviour. One thing of particular interest that has also been the subject of long term debate, is how they interact with Kelp forests.

Opinion has been split on this subject. in Gansbaai, South Africa at least.

No, of course they don’t.

One school of thought is that kelp is generally too dense for sharks to swim through. They therefore avoid these areas, making them a safe haven for seals wishing not to get chomped on.
Which makes sense, on the fact of it. The fact that groups have invested considerable time and money into the development of Shark Barriers which aim to mimic kelp as a means of making swimming zones safe, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they wish for this to be true.

Yes, of course they do.

The other school of thought, is that sharks don’t care. Sure, seals might swim into these areas because they provide more coverage than the open sea. But that doesn’t necessarily mean sharks won’t follow them in. These are streamlined, agile creatures with incredibly accurate, powerful senses. It’s going to take more than a bit of submerged shrubbery to dissuade their pursuit of a chubby meal.

Project details

Oliver interviewed on CBSN to talk about this project

Uncovering the truth

By deploying camera tags to free swimming sharks as part of the white shark kinematics project, we retrieved multiple hours worth of footage recording their behaviour.

Based on these recordings, in 2019 Oliver Jewell and co published Cryptic habitat use of white sharks in kelp forest revealed by animal-borne video. This study proves beyond any measurable doubt, that sharks will not only follow seals into kelp forests, but they’ll actively hunt there, too. His study contains numerous video snippets of sharks pushing through reasonably dense areas of kelp, to pursue seals both alone and in groups.

I’m not a co-author on this project, but I assisted the team during the camera deployments and have been analysing some of the data, for use in other studies.

A Steel Kelp Shark

In addition to assisting with data collection, I was called upon to contribution some promotional artwork for the study.

As it wasn’t required to communicate the data or findings in quite the same way and infographic would be. As this was purely promotional, I let myself get all abstract and conceptual about it by building a ‘steel kelp’ shark in Maya.

White sharks sculpture