Researchers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the University of Tokyo are gaining unprecedented insight into the lives of sharks through sensors and other instruments that are tracking their travel patterns and feeding habits.

The research is shedding light on one of the most feared and mysterious ocean predators, according to a press release. It marks the first time that sharks have been outfitted with sensors and video recorders that measure and track where they’re going, how they’re getting there and what they’re doing once they reach their destinations. Until now, sharks have typically been observed in captivity and tracked only to get basic information on where they’ve traveled. 

Click here to see some of the new footage.

The scientists are also studying how sharks and other big ocean predators, such as tuna, ingest and digest their prey. The pilot project uses electrical instruments that the animals consume.

The scientists’ footage shows sharks of different species swimming in schools, interacting with other fish and moving in repetitive loops across the sea bed, the press release says. The researchers also discovered that sharks use powered swimming more often than gliding to move through the sea, contrary to what scientists thought previously. It also turns out that deep-sea sharks swim more slowly than shallow-water species. 

“These instrument packages are like flight data recorders for sharks,” said Carl Meyer, a researcher at UH Manoa’s Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, in a statement. “They allow us to quantify a variety of different things that we haven’t been able to quantify before.”

“It has really drawn back the veil on what these animals do and answered some longstanding questions,” he added.

Experts say the research will help uncover crucial information about the marine ecosystem and the flow of energy through the ocean. The new observations, according to the researchers, could also shape conservation and resource management efforts and inform public safety measures. 

Meyer and his colleague, Kim Holland, presented their research this morning at the 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting. The week-long biennial event brings together more than 5,000 researchers from around the world. 

Photo: A bluntnose sixgill shark outfitted with a sensor and digital camera. (Courtesy of UH Manoa via YouTube.)

— Alia Wong