June 28, 2016

Story: Monterey Bay area scientists featured in Shark Week film, Blue Serengeti

Blue Serengeti Premieres July 1 @ 10PM, only on Discovery Channel's Shark Week.

Monterey, CA - Discovery Channel’s Shark Week has become an annual phenomenon, drawing millions of viewers enthralled with the mystery, power and extreme agility of the world’s large predatory sharks.

During this year’s Shark Week, a team of scientists from Stanford University, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and University of California Santa Cruz are featured in a science documentary called Blue Serengeti, premiering Friday, July 1, at 10 PM on Discovery Channel.

The film features cutting-edge technologies researchers are using to explore why predators and prey alike migrate thousands of miles every year to three hotspots off the coast off California. Using Camera Tags that mount directly on ocean predators, researchers have been able to gain a first-hand perspective of white sharks, whales, elephant seals and sea lions as they travel through the waters of California’s National Marine Sanctuaries. Blue Serengeti showcases this newly gathered footage and tag data on movements, making viewers feel like they are right in the water with these animals.

The Great Serengeti Parks of Africa are famous for the migrations of millions of wildebeest, zebra and giraffes that are followed by great predators such as lions and cheetahs. On an even grander scale—though much less known—the waters off Monterey, California and Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary brim with seasonal populations of predators that come from across the Pacific to feed on abundant prey. Extensive electronic tagging by the science team in the past decade has revealed these great migrations which the film shows in detail.

Gigi, a large female White Shark in the waters off Ano Nuevo. Credit: Stanford University

“Blue Serengeti tells the story of why Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is a lunch stop for many large predators and makes the direct comparison between Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the Great Serengeti Parks of Africa,” said Professor Barbara Block of Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station.

Block and Mr. William Douros, Regional Director for the west coast National Marine Sanctuaries, have compared the wildlife aggregations offshore central California to Africa’s most iconic savanna ecosystems.

“All three of the National Marine Sanctuaries in the heart of the California Current – Greater Farallones, Cordell Bank and Monterey Bay – are natural history hotspots, and the marine wildlife viewing here is unparalleled to anywhere in the world’s ocean,” said Douros. “Natural oceanographic and biological processes create an enormously-productive natural ecosystem, which supports diverse food webs and incredible tourism and recreational opportunities as well.”

With the beauty and complexity of white sharks and their prey, extraordinary scientists and technology, and never-before-seen underwater views from the breathtaking underwater habitats of California National Marine Sanctuaries, Oscar-nominated and Emmy award-winning wildlife filmmaker Bob Nixon working in collaboration with the scientific team delivers a breakthrough effort in science storytelling in Blue Serengeti to explain the complex oceanographic processes that drive one of the greatest migration on earth to the waters off Monterey, California.

“Right off our California shores we have one of the ocean’s most stunning congregations of predators and prey - wilderness like this is vital to the ocean’s health,” said Dr. Sal Jorgensen, a Senior Research Scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “We almost lost this once, when seals, sea lions, whales and other species were hunted to near extinction. More than ever we need bold efforts to conserve wide-ranging marine species throughout their range.”

The team uses autonomous vehicles to map the ocean floor, understand the currents and the environmental factors that support this incredible hotspot of biodiversity. Non-invasive Camera Tags, which incorporate the latest sensor technology for HD video recording and a suite of sensors that measure swimming speed, depth, and other information, are attached directly to humpback whales, elephant seals, and white sharks and allow the research team to view and recreate the movement and behaviors of Monterey’s seasonal visitors.

“Historically, most of our understanding of the behavior of these amazing predators has come from brief encounters near the ocean’s surface,” explained Taylor Chapple, a research scientist at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station. “It’s like trying to understand everything about people by watching their behavior at a coffee shop. These Camera Tags allow us to travel with the animals wherever they go and actually see their behaviors, the habitats that they use and how they interact with other species and individuals.”

Director Bob Nixon captures all of this action through the eyes of scientists, autonomous vehicles and the sharks themselves. Blue Serengeti takes the viewer on a journey that shows unprecedented, never-before-seen underwater views from the California National Marine Sanctuaries, to find out why the greatest migration on earth comes here, to the waters off Monterey, California.

Blue Serengeti science team tagging a white shark. Photo Credit: Stanford and Discovery

"Blue Serengeti highlights the great biologging tag technology we use to see what large mobile predators are doing in the waters off our Monterey shores, and explores why they travel to these hotspots and provides viewers with information on the challenges of managing wide-ranging mobile species like white sharks and bluefin tunas,” said Block.

The Blue Serengeti Initiative, led by Block, is a collaboration comprised of researchers from four institutions around Monterey Bay investigating why predators gather at this location that Block describes as one of the ocean’s great “watering holes."

The Blue Serengeti Film Research Effort was supported by Discovery, Stanford University, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Office of Naval Research, Rolex, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, and CENCOOS.

Watch a trailer of Blue Serengeti.
More info on the film via Discovery.
Also see blueserengeti.org and topp.org

Media Contacts

Kristi Boosman
Communications Manager
Center for Ocean Solutions
Stanford University
Ph: 650.850.1136
Email: kboosman@stanford.edu

Jackie Lamaj
Senior Publicity Manager Discovery
Ph: 212.548.5607
Email: Jackie_Lamaj@discovery.com

Researcher Contacts

Barbara Block
Hopkins Marine Station
Stanford University
Ph: 831.655.6236
Email: bblock@stanford.edu

Taylor Chapple
Research Scientist
Hopkins Marine Station
Stanford University
Ph: 440 258 9768
Email: tchapple@stanford.edu

Salvador Jorgenson
Research Scientist
Monterey Bay Aquarium
For media requests, contact MBA Communications Director, Ken Peterson
Ph: 831-648-4922
M 831-238-3632
Email: KPeterson@mbayaq.org