Marine biologists have used connected technology to monitor Oceanic Whitetip sharks and better understand their behaviour.
Oceanic Whitetip sharks move around the ocean with great efficiency, exploiting physics to maximize their energy surplus for both hunting and downtime.
In the past, tracking their movements hasn’t been easy, but thanks to an unusual collaboration between a team of marine biologists, an aerospace engineer and some statisticians, more is now known about these elusive animals.
Over the last few years, this team has been able to generate precise calculations that shine a light on the size, swimming location, water temperatures and daily activities of whitetip sharks.
Open water inhabitants
FIU marine scientist Yannis Papastamatiou, whose aim was to learn more about the elusive creatures, led the research. Whitetips tend to live in open water, making them much harder to study than their coastal relatives.
Papastamatiou has compared the whitetips’ habitat to a dessert: it’s a large ecosystem where there’s hardly any food available. A great deal of energy is thus expended on the hunt for prey. Papstamatiou wanted to know what behavior could maximize an animal’s energy surplus and understand if this is the way that oceanic whitetips behave.
He teamed up with aerospace engineer Gil Iosilevskii from Technion – Israel Institute of Technology to work out some calculations, based on the optimal flight performance for aircraft. These models, it was determined, could predict the optimal swim speeds for sharks, as well as the best speeds and angles for dives.
Utilising connected tech
The researchers carried out this project in the Bahamas, which is a populous area for whitetips. They tagged the sharks with connected sensors to explore their speed, acceleration and depth.
As well as the sensors, they also used cameras for two sharks. The scientists found that sharks tend to behave optimally, controlling their speed constantly as they ascend and descend.
One of the sharks was able to travel from 160 meters at 4 meters per second vertically, breaching the surface. Normal speed for these animals tends to range from 0.6 to 0.7 per second, so this was a remarkable finding.
“I can’t imagine this shark could see something at the surface from that depth,” said Papastamatiou. “It was going full force in a vertical ascent.” He intends to continue his studies into these large marine predators, using physics, biology and the IoT.