How underwater robots shine a light on sharks
Discover how marine scientists are borrowing technology from the energy industry to explore the ocean depths and widen scientific knowledge.
Deep in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, sunlight cannot permeate and temperatures are close to freezing. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that little has historically been known about the creatures living there.
But with help from the energy industry, marine scientists are gradually unveiling more secrets about underwater life.
Shell and other energy companies have offered access to underwater robots known as Remote Operating Vehicles (ROVs), which are controlled from the surface and equipped with cameras, powerful beams of light and robotic arms. The machines are capable of exploring life thousands of metres below sea level, and have led to the discovery of new species.
“These underwater vehicles are our eyes in the sea,” says Mark Benfield, Professor in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences at Louisiana State University in the USA. “They enable us to explore the largest habitat on the planet, most of which is still unknown to science.”
The preferred habitat of the sleeper shark, which can grow up to 7m (23 feet) long, was thought to be cold, shallow northern waters. This one was filmed in the Mississippi Canyon at a depth of about 2,300m (7,500 feet), much deeper and farther south than previously known
Many sightings may be Greenland sharks, a sleeper shark species, which are hard to identify without DNA samples. In 2013, a Florida State University team captured the first Greenland shark in the Gulf of Mexico, but Mark Benfield believes he saw a large one there in 2008
Up to 8 metres (26 feet) in length, the oarfish is one of the world’s longest fish. It is thought to be the origin of sea serpent myths told by early seafarers. Before the use of ROVs it was rarely seen alive
The deep-sea lizardfish lives on the ocean bottom at depths as low as 3,500m (11,500 feet). It has a large mouth full of sharp teeth which curve backwards. Once caught, its prey cannot escape
This rarely seen giant deep-sea jellyfish had been filmed twice before in the Pacific Ocean, but had never been sighted in the Gulf of Mexico. Its disc-like bell can be 1 metre (3 feet) wide and its tentacles 7 metres (23 feet) long