On the surface, being a seal sounds pretty sweet. You get to loll around in the waves, eat the freshest seafood, and be unashamedly fat and sassy. The major drawback is that you’d also be the favorite snack of great white sharks, and if that thought alone isn’t enough to make you shiver, this “seal’s-eye view” of the sharks doing what they do best will make you thankful you’re not a blubbery pinniped:
The footage was collected off Mexico’s Guadalupe Island by an autonomous underwater vehicle, or AUV, in 2013 as part of an effort to solve a mealtime mystery.
Marine biologists studying the thriving population of great white sharks around the island knew that the toothy fish liked dining on seals. Occasionally sharks have been seen at the surface sawing their serrated teeth through seal carcasses in spectacles worthy of Shark Week. But no one had ever seen the great whites actually attacking and catching their prey. Researchers suspected that the sharks were sneaking up on seals in deep water, chomping their rear flippers off, and following their bleeding prey up to the surface, but no one knew for sure.
To find out, shark scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and their colleagues followed tagged sharks with an AUV nicknamed REMUS. And while they didn’t capture any sharks chasing seals, the great whites were very curious about the strange new thing buzzing through their waters. The AUV’s cameras spotted at least twelve different sharks, ichthyologist Gregory Skomal and coauthors write in a report of the study, and while most of them simply went about their peaceful sharky business, there were a few that bit the AUV, and hard. Hard enough that one shark even breached the AUV’s hull.
Why were the sharks biting REMUS? You’d have to ask the sharks, and no one yet speaks their language. (“One bite for ‘No’, two bites for ‘Yes’, please.”) Skomal and coauthors suggest that the sharks might have mistaken REMUS for prey. Most of the bites were directed towards the back of the apparatus, in the equivalent area where a seal’s rear flippers would be. But it’s also possible that the sharks were curious or frustrated with this weird object in their home turf. Given that sharks largely experience the world through their mouths, who can blame them for chewing on a problem to figure it out?
IMAGE: Terry Goss/Wikipedia