Basking sharks off the coast of the UK are having their own Love Island moment: an underwater robot has been filming their interactions to shed light on everything from sex to group behaviour.
Researchers say the autonomous “SharkCam”, which was deployed in July around the Inner Hebrides, has captured wide-angle high-definition video of sharks that have been tagged, with the team now wading through the footage.
It is hoped the project, which is funded by a collaboration of bodies including Scottish Natural Heritage and the University of Exeter, might shed new light on the behaviour of the world’s second largest fish – and possibly even reveal whether the creatures breed in Scottish waters.
The SharkCam, a large, yellow torpedo-shaped device, is owned and operated by the US-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Footage revealed so far shows basking sharks feeding near the surface and moving through the water.
“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,” said Suzanne Henderson, the marine policy officer at Scottish Natural Heritage.
As well as the SharkCam, the team will be analysing data recorded by sonar imaging and cameras towed by the sharks themselves.
The Sea of the Hebrides is one of four marine areas currently under consideration for protection by the Scottish government. Henderson said the SharkCam project and its initial findings supported the importance of the area – one of the few where basking sharks are found feeding in surface waters in such high numbers.
“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,” she said.