Animals Vs. Equipment

The following images came across my desk last week humorously labeled “There’s something wrong with the ROV”.  The startling shots show what appears to be an unfortunate mako shark that has become entangled in the mechanics of a large ROV [remotely operated vehicle]

This led to a conversation with the other deeplings and some of my other connections looking for more info.  As best I can determine, it’s legit, although it’s hard to be certain because the best reference I can find (from someone purporting to be the photographer himself) was an anonymous discussion board poster.    The photos were apparently taken in a commercial context, at an oil platform off the coast of Angola in 2008 and, despite the remarkable animal involved, the damage to the ROV was restricted to some loose fittings and a punctured hose (no kidding!).   Anyway, it got me and the other deeplings to talking about when marine life interacts with equipment, which is of course inevitable when we intrude into their world.  A look at YouTube reveals some startling bits of footage, which I’ve gathered below for your viewing pleasure.

First, there’s this one (embedding disabled) showing a deepwater six-gilled shark “sleeping” on a well-head.  He’s sort of just lazing really.

Next, what looks like perhaps another mako having a go at an ROV:

From the same YouTube user SouthernVenture, a sperm whale idles by some sort of submerged equipment at 3,000ft depth

Another remarkable clip from SouthernVenture showing an ROV crew trying to extract a billfish from one of their wells in Australia:

This one from user Camioio shows first a sleeper shark and what I think is a mokarran hammerhead cruising around a well head, then a lightning fast strike on the equipment by a small  broadbill swordfish:

This one shows what look like humboldt squids, attacking an ROV during ascent in the Pacific:

In this last one, the equipment (or rather its operator) wins an interactions with a small demersal shark (not sure of the ID) in fairly emphatic fashion due to a powerful suction dredge pump.  In fact, it looks deliberate, which is kind of sad

So, sea life and ROV’s and other submarine equipment are inevitably going to come into contact from time to time.  Operators can choose to help (as with the crew trying to free the swordfish) or they can do what the last folks did.  Either way, we have to expect these sorts of incidents to become more common as ROV usage increases.  Have you had an animal interaction while working with underwater equipment?  If so, lets hear about it in the comments.

h/t Dr. Ian Bricknell

16 Replies to “Animals Vs. Equipment”

  1. One question that occurs to me since pulling this piece together is: do we need to be developing animal deterrents for submarine equipment, like a deer alarm for ROVs?

  2. I was thinking the same thing after seeing multiple grenadiers chopped up by the ROV props on my last expediton

  3. Thanks for bringing attention to something most of us don’t think about very often!

    One thing I do think about often, though, is the use of the word “attack” to describe animal behavior that may or may not merit it. Both the mako shark and Humboldt squid videos look to me like they could just as easily have been curious/exploratory behaviors.

    Realistically, I don’t know if there’s any way to convince people to stop assuming “attack,” since sharks explore with their toothy maws and Humboldts with their equally toothy arms . . . what do y’all think?

  4. That’s a good point; it’s sort of a metaphyscial question whether the mako and the squid actually have/had malicious intent, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure both of them are used to biting/tentacling anything they want with impunity, even if only out of curiosity. On these occasions though, they may have (literally) bitten off more than they can chew. Perhaps “entanglement” might be a more neutral word since it doesn’t blame either party for what is, fairly honestly, an accident. That last one with the dredge pump though, that was no accident, which is pretty pathetic.

  5. Wow. Being an ROV driver, even a commercial one, must be the coolest job in the world. Of course I’d probably lose that job very quickly since I’d likely spend my whole shift chasing fish around. Though that dredge vs. shark interaction was a pretty asshole move.
    The shark in the second video might be either a porbeagle or longfin mako. The eye looks a bit big and the color is a bit dark for a shortfin, and I think the dorsal fin has a white spot on the trailing edge. I guess it would depend on where the ROV was when it was “attacked.” Either way pretty cool video.
    And for the record, the intent of Humboldt squid is ALWAYS malicious.

  6. I remember seeing half a grenadier fish falling past the camera on one of our ROV dives and being very perplexed. It took a few seconds before I realized…

  7. grenadiers are pretty dumb fish though. our alvin sub pilots could literally pick them up with the mechanical arm and stuff it in the bioboxes lol.

  8. I was on the ship that those “shark attack” photos were taken on, the Bourbon Oceanteam 101, which does indeed operate off the coast of Angola. I was there for an environmental impact study on oil drilling off the coast, and we were using the 101, which carries two Hercules class ROV’s, to help deploy our seafloor observation platforms. The ROV operators were mostly young kids straight out of undergrad or Angolan oil rig workers, and they were extremely excited about our scientific work, especially if it had anything to do with biology.

    They had to fly pipeline surveys and attach oil well heads 24 hours a day for 3-6 month shifts, so they were easily distracted by any odd fish or invertebrates that swam, crawled, or floated by. There were a few instances of animal cruelty (and their response to the shark entanglement was to see if they could eat it), but for the most part they really enjoyed learning about what the animals were, and they shared a lot of video and photos with me to try to get me to identify things they’d seen. They also send their footage to the SERPENT program in the UK (, which uses industrial ROV video footage and photographs to do research.

    I’m not sure what kind of deterrents would keep sharks, billfish, and other organisms from attacking the lights of ROV’s and submersibles – I heard about similar things happening to the Johnson Sea-Link submersible, where swordfish would attack the lights and become entangled with the sub. If the noise, light, and electrical activity don’t already repel them, I’m not sure what else would. Releasing chemicals would probably be a bad idea…

  9. This is a pretty old debate. I recently came across a discussion of animals fouling transoceanic cables from a turn of the century almanac. Can’t find it now, lost in the plentitude of Google Books.

    I imagine the Navy has a heap of literature on the topic. As I recall, it was a Navy sea anchor that snagged the first megamouth shark. And cookie cutters are legendary for gouging out submarine arrays.

  10. Hi Mike, thanks for filling out the details for us! Its funny how these things have a way of going viral-via-email and unfortunate how the provenance so often gets lost along the way. We’re very lucky to have you be around the shed some more light on the situation, thanks!

  11. Late to the discussion (only recently discovered this excellent blog)…

    Based upon my own interactions with dogs, cats, parrots, dolphins and crows, and study of footage of octopuses, squid, sharks and pinnepeds, I conclude that high intelligence co-occurs with curiosity, problem-solving, assertiveness/aggressiveness and predatory/opportunistic diet. To give a hypothetical example:

    Who shows up when you land a helicopter at night in a neighborhood that’s unfamiliar with one?
    1) curious bystanders
    2) neighborhood toughs
    3) local authorities
    4) higher authorities (including military)

    These hominins will gather around the object and some will try to touch and feel it, with guns in hand. If one guy decided he liked a dingus and tried to see if it came off, his actions might be viewed by the pilot as an “attack.” (Indeed, the history of first-contact events is rife with such events.)

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