A video survey conducted off the coast of New Zealand ended in dramatic fashion recently when a four-metre (13ft) great white shark made off with the underwater camera kit. Thankfully, the research team from Massey University was able to retrieve their rig once the shark – a male known locally as "Kermit" – left it behind after several minutes. 

Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV) systems are great for observing marine life: the camera-carrying steel frames can sit on the sea floor for over an hour, and the resulting footage reveals clues about habitat use, feeding behaviour, biodiversity and movement patterns. As this encounter demonstrates, however, you just never know how the ocean's predators will react to the gear.

According to lead researcher Dr Adam Smith, the clips from this particular camera, which was dropped near the Kermadec Islands during a six-week expedition, also revealed interactions with "very obnoxious" octopuses. 

"When the gear is on the seabed, we don't have a live feed so we have no idea what we're going to see when we review the footage at the end of the day," Smith said in a press release.

Great white sharks, meanwhile, are seldom seen in these waters, so Kermit's cameo appearance was an exciting surprise.  

"The shark calmly circled the bait for a few minutes before approaching the gear and giving it a few 'curiosity bites'," he said. "It then effortlessly picked up the entire BRUV set, swam with it up to the surface, and then dropped it back to the sea floor. It did this a total of three times, before losing interest and swimming off."

Sharks use their mouths to explore their surroundings – it's one of the reasons why they bite at the bars of dive cages – but exactly what Kermit was up to in this case is hard to say. It's possible the animal was confused by the rig's electrical signals, or simply attempting to land an easy meal (the BRUV's bait canister was filled with tuna steaks). 

California State University, Long Beach "Shark Lab" director Dr Christopher Lowe, who was not involved in this survey, found the shark's game of "toss the tech" quite amusing. 

"I had to chuckle," he told Live Science. "It reminded me a giant squirrel trying to hide a rare nut! Also, I was just kind of glad it wasn't one of my BRUVs! I wonder how often [they] go missing because big sharks carry them off?"

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Although we haven't seen a heist quite like Kermit's before, it's not unusual for sharks to give research equipment a nudge or bite. Earlier this week, an inquisitive tiger shark came in for a close look at a BRUV deployed near Australia's Cocos Islands:


And back in 2015, a shark-tracking robot operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution lost communication after a white shark mistook it for prey.

Smith and the Massey team suspect that Kermit was migrating between New Zealand and the tropics when he encountered their camera. Past tagging studies indicate that at least some great whites use the Kermadecs as a halfway resting point along their travel route. 

The team's footage will contribute to the Global FinPrint project, which aims to fill in information gaps about declining shark and ray populations worldwide. At some of the expedition's other stopping points, including New Caledonia, Fiji and Tonga, the team noted a troubling lack of predator activity. 



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