Prickly Sharks

Ian and his crew brave dangerous depths, extreme cold and technically difficult diving conditions, to get up close and personal with the mysterious Prickly sharks. These sharks are rarely seen above depths of 300ft, well out of human reach. But he takes us to Monterey’s underwater canyons on the Californian coast, where he literally bumps into one in shallower waters.

Produced by NHNZ

Shark Gordon® presenter Ian Gordon prepares to get up close and personal with his first Prickly Shark, a mysterious bottom-dweller living at Pacific Ocean depths of 300ft (92 metres) to 1300ft (400 metres), well beyond human reach.

Until recently these sharks had only been viewed using remotely operated vehicles off Hawaii. But scientists have seen them in shallower waters at the head of Monterey Bay’s underwater canyon, which ranges from around 100ft (30.7 metres) to over two miles (3.2 km) in depth.

Ian discusses his plans to help catch and tag some of the canyon’s Prickly creatures with his friend, John O’Sullivan, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. He also explains the fascinating design of the aquarium and its importance to research.

John is one of the few scientists to have caught and studied a live Prickly Shark before tagging and releasing it.

Apart from the rough skin texture, which gives them their name, Ian explains that little is known about them.

The canyon, thought to attract Prickly Sharks for feeding, is the only place in the world where they have been seen at depths of less than 300ft (92 metres).

John briefs Ian on the dangers of diving the canyon’s depths. The often sluggish Pricklies appear safe to approach, but as Ian heads out to sea, he contemplates other dangers. It’s not just the depth, the cold or the fact that the deadly six-gill shark has been seen with the Pricklies. The Monterey coastline has some of the highest numbers of Great White attacks in the world and just two days ago a Great White was seen right here.

Ian dons a POD (Protective Oceanic Device) just in case. But he’ll only turn it on in an emergency so as not to scare off the Prickly Sharks.

Below the canyon drops away 6500ft (2000 metres) to the sea floor.

Visibility is so poor Ian can’t even see his diving fins, but he has a feeling the Pricklies are very close by.

The sharks only come up to the head of the canyon during darkness, leaving soon after daybreak, so Ian only has a short time each morning to find them.

To avoid suffering from the bends, a potentially lethal build-up of nitrogen gas in the blood that can occur at such dangerous depths, Ian must abandon his first attempt.

Ian joins scientist Rick Starr to help catch and tag some Pricklies using fishing lines baited with fresh salmon steak.

On their third attempt they secure a female Prickly. Tiny spines in her skin leave Ian in no doubt as to how these sharks got their name. The tag was attached to her back and its acoustic signal should enable Rick to track her movements.

On Ian’s next diving attempt the water is colder, which should attract more sharks. But it’s murky, it’s dark and Ian’s feeling uneasy at the prospect of “bumping into” a thousand pound (454.5 kg) shark!

With just minutes remaining he meets his first Prickly face to face. For Ian, it’s a religious experience.

Hopefully research will shed more light on these mysterious creatures, but Ian’s ecstatic about meeting these sharks on their own territory.

As far as he knows the filming is a world first.

Episodes From This Series

White Tips of Osprey

30 mins / 2001

A Whale of a Shark

30 mins / 2001

Mako—Friend or Foe?

30 mins / 2001

Great White—The Ultimate Predator

30 mins / 2001

Thresher Shark

30 mins / 2001

Hammerheads

30 mins / 2001

Galapagos Sharks

30 mins / 2001

Grey Nurse — A Visit to the Nurse

30 mins / 2001

Prickly Sharks

30 mins / 2001

Hawaiian Tigers

1 hour / 2001

Port Jackson – A Family Secret

30 mins / 2001

The Sailor’s Nightmare

1 hour / 2001

Shark Attack

30 mins / 2001

Great White Bite

2 Minutes / 2007

Great White – The Ultimate Predator

2 Minutes / 2007

Feeding Frenzy

3 Minutes / 2007

Bull Sharks

3 Minutes / 2007

A Whale of a Shark

2 Minutes / 2007

Mako

3 Minutes / 2007