Shark cam to reveal secrets of ocean predator

Researchers tag and outfit sharks with video cameras

Published  6:57 AM HST May 22, 2013
Shark
HONOLULU -

A team of University of Hawaii researchers set out from Coconut Island.  They head out a few miles from shore to check the lines they baited with fish in waters up to 300 feet deep.

Their goal -- catch sharks, tag them and try to learn more about them.

Carl Meyer, from the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, figures he has tagged more than a thousand sharks of all kinds in the last 20 years.

"We have learned things in the last few months that we had no idea were going on in Kaneohe Bay," said Meyer.

Advances in technology, including use of point-of-view critter cams are now providing new clues about shark behavior.

On this particular morning, conditions seem ideal for snaring a shark.  An earlier trip in the week yielded a catch of 10 sharks.  On this day, most of the 53 hooks are strangely empty.  That is, until we get to the lines set out the furthest from land.

"The line has been pulled together by a large shark.  There is often a large tangle and a big shark associated with it, so if it's still on the line we are going to have to figure out how to deal with the shark and the line in a safe manner," said Meyer.

What we find will push this crew to the limit.

"We have a tiger shark on the line.  Can't tell how big it is at this point, but it's probably a medium-sized shark," said Meyer.

But medium is relative when this shark measures out at a bit more than 12-feet-long, more than half the szie of our 21-foot-long boat.

It takes a few attempts to get the shark where they want him.  No one wants to see any lost limbs.

And then... success!

Turning the shark upside down gets it immobile.  Then, the team can get the animal tagged and attach devices to learn how they move and how they track their prey.

"An animal with a tag similar to this swam to Mexico and it was caught by Mexican fishermen who then sent us the tag back and we have recently been able to analyze 20 years of data to see how fast these tiger sharks grow, which is actually very fast," said Meyer.  "They grow from a pup to 12 feet in about seven (years) on average.  They really fast growing ones will reach that in only four or five years."

Like it or not, this shark is going to spill some secrets.  We want to know why it does what it does.

Scientists seize this opportunity to get into the shark's mouth.  The concept is to link the bacteria they find on its teeth to where the shark has been.

"You might be able to take a shark that you catch and swab the bacteria and you can say this one has been swimming off the coast of East Honolulu or to Waianae," said James Anderson of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

On a previous trip, they attached a small video camera along with an accelerometer, a device to track how a shark swims.  The time-released package can hang on a shark's fin for up to three days.

"The whole thing breaks free from the shark, floats up to the surface and we use this satellite and VHF transmitter to find the floating package and recover it from the ocean," said Meyer.  "We can combine information from these instruments and get really deep new insights into the behavior and ecology of sharks."

That goes for all sharks, not just tiger sharks.

This shark stealth cam video reveals the predator's point of view.

"We have some really cool stuff from those devices and we have to -- we need to publish that in scientific journals before we can make it public, but we have some really exciting stuff to show people in the near future," said Meyer.

Viral videos in the making.  Shark secrets revealed soon!

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