In a 2015 National Geographic expedition, scientists found sharks living inside one of the most active underwater volcanoes on Earth. The team, led by Ocean engineer Brennan Philips traveled to the remote Solomon Islands in search of hydrothermal activity. At the time of their expedition, the main peak of the volcano, called Kavachi, was not erupting so they were able to drop camera equipment into the crater.
The footage they obtained revealed hammerheads and silky sharks living inside the volcano. The discovery was shocking for the team for a number of reasons. Phillips explains, “Number one it’s very hot and acidic, and we measured that. Number two, it’s very turbid, so the water is very cloudy…”
He adds, “None of these things are good for fish. Whether they’re good for sharks, that’s up for debate. Yet we saw sharks that in between eruptions are darting in and out between the clouds of the plume. So that’s a lingering question mark.” According to Phillips, you never know what you’re going to find when you are working deep underwater. They knew they would find interesting geology but they were not sure about the biology.
Recounting what he witnessed on video, he says, “One of the videos from inside the main caldera of Kavachi shows some jellyfish hanging out. They seem to be there naturally. And then we see some snappers and some small fish … and then sharks start coming after the camera. Sharks are cool in their own right—all of them are—but a hammerhead is particularly neat looking. And they’re in there, in numbers, inside the volcano!”
Last year, Phillips reunited with his 2015 expedition mates in order to once again venture out about 20 miles off the coast of the Solomon Islands to the Pacific Ocean’s Kavachi volcano.
When asked what it feels like to be so close to one of the most active underwater volcanoes in the world, he says, “The boat is literally vibrating, which you especially feel in your chest. It feels like a crack of thunder has just gone off right next to you and underneath you.”
He recalls, after the “sharkano” video was released publicly, he received calls from several shark scientists who said, “we need to tag a shark, let’s do it!” He maintains, “The story is not over. For better or for worse, we gotta go back.”
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