Sunday, September 03, 2006

New observer vehicle to study sharks' behaviour

The mysteries of shark behaviour in their natural environment may soon be revealed when a shark observer vehicle (SOV1) is launched for trials in Overberg waters later this month.

The prime objective of this project is to succeed in capturing the mating and pupping (birth) of Great White sharks on video. This would be a world first, never documented or witnessed before.
The SOV belongs to Sharkproject, an international initiative for research into and protection of sharks. The 4,2 m high tech, 900 kg self propelled submersible cage will document Great White shark behaviour and take part in shark research in cooperation with local scientists, researchers and Marine and Coastal Management (MCM).

The non-pressurised craft has a maximum speed of 12 km/h which will carry a two man crew in scuba gear. They can stay submerged for up to four hours although the plan is to limit the dives to one hour at a time. The SOV's two high-definition video cameras can produce recordings suitable for direct TV broadcasts and also allow for good quality still photographs of sharks in their natural environment.

The SOV, built to exact international standards in Germany, is on its way to Cape Town. It will be launched from a semi-inflatable “water trailer” being manufactured in Hermanus by Cape Rubber Ducks. The trailer boat is to be towed to the actual operational area by a support vessel.
When the SOV is in operation underwater the support vessel will fly a flag to indicate there are divers below.

Sharkproject is registered in Germany as a non-profit making organisation founded by Gerhard Wegner after a visit to Hermanus where he came face to face with the Great White predator during a cage dive off Dyer Island.

He recognised the urgency of protecting this top marine predator-turned-prey from an even more efficient predator - man, to preserve them for future generations. Great Whites are being slaughtered at the rate of 200 million a year - far above their reproductive rate. As a result the sharks are rapidly nearing extinction, and this extinction will endanger the whole fabric of the marine eco-balance that has evolved over hundreds of millions of years.

South Africa is leading the world by protecting the dwindling numbers of Great White Sharks and it may be in our local waters where scientists can shed light on, and perhaps help to save, this unfairly maligned and magnificent creature.


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