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Autonomous ‘SharkCam’ reveals the secret life of basking sharks

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An autonomous 'SharkCam' has been deployed by scientists to monitor the behaviour of basking sharks in the Inner Hebrides off the coast of Scotland.

It is hoped the cameras will reveal intricate details about the shark's lives. Little is currently known about basking sharks, the second-largest species of fish in the world.

Researchers believe the technology will uncover more about their underwater behaviour, social interactions, group behaviour and courtship of the species.

It is also hoped that the autonomous camera will capture pictures that will reinforce the case to create a protected area for the sharks.

The camera follows the sharks below the surface of the water and collects high-quality oceanographic data and wide-angle high-definition video of their behaviour from a distance.

Initial footage has shown the sharks moving through the water column (a conceptual column of water from the surface of the sea to the bottom sediment), potentially searching for food, feeding near the surface and swimming close to the seabed.

Suzanne Henderson, marine policy officer at Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), said: “These giant fish are spectacular and watching them feed gracefully at the sea surface is such a special and memorable experience.

“This year’s collaboration has allowed us to use a combination of camera technologies and given us a glimpse of basking sharks’ underwater behaviour - a real first and very exciting.

“The footage has already made us reassess their behaviour, with the sharks appearing to spend much more time swimming just above the seabed than we previously thought.

“It really brings home why it’s so important that the species and its habitat are protected by designating the Sea of the Hebrides as a marine protected area (MPA).”

Fieldwork took place in the proposed Sea of the Hebrides MPA - one of four possible protected areas currently under consultation by the Scottish Government. MPAs are specially designated and managed to protect marine ecosystems, habitats and species.

It is suspected that basking sharks may even breed in Scotland - an event that has never before been captured on film.

The Inner Hebridean area is one of only a few areas worldwide where large numbers of basking sharks are found feeding in the surface waters each year.

Jenny Oates, of WWF, said: “Our seas and coasts are home to some incredible wildlife. As our oceans come under increasing pressure, innovative technology like the REMUS SharkCam Robot can reveal our underwater world like never before and help to show why it must be protected.

“It is essential that we safeguard our seas, not just to enable magnificent species like basking sharks to thrive, but because all life on earth depends on our oceans.”

The project is being carried out by a collaboration of bodies including SNH, WWF and the University of Exeter.

In 2017, E&T looked at the new technologies being deployed by divers to repel sharks looking for a bite to eat. 

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