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Jumping off a fishing boat in the middle of the Pacific at midnight is an unusual and maybe even terrifying way to start a day's work. This holds even more true when jumping directly onto the back of a creature that officially has "megamouth" in its name. But for Paul Clerkin, this is the moment he's been preparing and hoping for.
Paul is an early career researcher specializing in rare and deep-sea sharks found in remote and understudied areas. He’s discovered over a dozen species of sharks previously unknown to science. His current project focuses on finding, filming, and tagging the elusive and little-known (it was accidentally discovered by a U.S. Navy ship in 1967 after becoming entangled in some subsea cables) megamouth shark.
Getting commercial-grade equipment and ROVs out on a small fishing boat or remote island is sometimes impossible and always expensive. This makes the Trident Underwater Drone, which is portable and easy to deploy, a particularly important tool in the field research kit of Paul and his small team.
Paul says, “Our Trident ROV was imperative to the megamouth project and functioned as our eyes below the surface. Our swift little ROV was small enough to operate in the field off the side of our vessel without the need of support or external power. We were able to check for the presence of sharks in nets (to minimize stress on the animals) and follow the sharks after release to assess the animals’ health.”
Because Trident is easy to use, researchers like Paul can readily access critical parts of their mission and film it along the way. All this without the need for an extensive background in remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) or robotics.
“When I first learned about ROV applications in science...[they] were big, bulky, and very expensive. My impression was that they were only available for an elite few successful scientists...but the only training our Trident pilot needed was knowing how to play video games and we were able to capture rare footage of megamouths swimming unhindered in their natural environment.”
Over the next few months, the tags we placed on the sharks will fall off and float to the surface where they will transmit data via satellite. The results of this study will help Paul and other scientists understand these mysterious sharks and hopefully provide enough information to change their conservation status. Trident will help drive Paul’s research on both the data collection and communication fronts: both crucial for creating public awareness and engagement.
Paul Clerkin is a filmmaker, marine ecologist, and expert on rare deep-sea shark species. He's a graduate researcher at the Pacific Shark Research Center at the Moss Landing Marine Labs.