The rising moon shone on the lens of the heavy underwater camera, now dripping with water after being pulled out of the cold Rhode Island ocean water. Wildlife filmmakers Joe and Lauren Romeiro had just completed a night dive they were becoming famous for: the New England Shark Night Dive.
Lauren Romeiro, a PhD student at the University of Rhode Island (URI) and marine biologist, spent a lot of time on the water growing up. “I got to see my first shark in the wild and that’s what really sparked my interest at first,” she recalls. Her husband, Joe, has a different story of how he got to love sharks. He left the Azores for the United States when he was younger and, unable to speak English, he was exposed to the world of natural history films and became interested in one animal in particular. “Sharks have always interested me because when I moved here my parents took me to the beach and it looked exactly like the scene in Jaws. Sharks were a big part of my favorites and thanks to that, I found my first “heroes,” he says. Fascinated by the workings of filmmaking, he made his own toy cameras to play with.”[Once] I became old [I landed] my first job in an animation studio – so from an early age I was surrounded by cinematography and storytelling. [Eventually] I was successful enough in my other endeavors that I was able to support myself by buying my first camera.
Today, the duo are a multi-award winning team from Rhode Island who founded 333 Productions, a production studio focused on producing wildlife films and photographic content. It’s surprising to many that sharks have been roaming Rhode Island waters for centuries, but they’re here! Some favorites include dark (Carcharhinus obscurus), blue (Prionace glauca), fox (family Alopiidae), mako (mainly Isurus oxyrinchus), lounge (Cetorhinus maximus), large white (Carcharodon carcharias), hammerhead shark (family Sphyrnidae), tiger (Galeocerdo cuvier) and porbeagle (lamna nasus). “Despite everything we already know about [sharks], I feel like every time we meet on the water, I’m constantly learning something different. They are very intelligent animals and each species is so unique and has adapted to its own environment,” says Lauren. “Porbeagles are a species that we have been tracking for a few years. We always try to capture something different and unique that has never been done before. We were able to learn so much about the behavior of this animal that has never been documented.
Named for its “porpoise” shape, this large, powerful shark is often mistaken for a small, odd-looking great white shark or mako shark. This may be due to their coloring: they are dark bluish gray above and whitish below. Known to be a circumglobal species, they undertake daily vertical migrations to feed on fish and squid. Porbeagles are a species for which there are not many photographs and videos. In the world of sharks, they are considered “ghosts” due to their elusiveness. The difficulty of the target made the Romeiros want to pursue it more. “There are very few photos or film footage of free-swimming porbeagle sharks anywhere in the world,” says Joe. “We were at night on our research vessel (the R/V WARFISH) capturing what few people have ever seen, hoping for a single porbeagle, but then we saw five interacting with each other . It was the maternal burden!
The Romeiros revealed their groundbreaking porbeagle images on their YouTube channel (seen here and here). As we can see on the video, two porbeagles seem to challenge each other… then three others show up! “Everything I thought I knew about this animal was wrong. I didn’t expect to see several of this animal at the same time, not only interacting with each other, but also really in tune with us and our research equipment,” Lauren says. “Were they there to mate or was this their hunting ground? We want to better understand their movements, behaviors and social interactions. This encounter not only contributes to enriching our knowledge of this rare species of shark, but it also helps us to acquire the data necessary to strengthen their protection against threats.
The Romeiros apply non-invasive sampling techniques, avoiding disturbing the natural behavior of critically endangered animals. “Our research technique allows us to observe many different animals at the same time as well as at different stages of their life, which shows that we do not need to rely on capturing animals to obtain data. “, explains Lauren. Joe thinks the added layer of photography and videography brings a world of invisible animals into the lives of people who don’t see them every day. “The visuals are what carry the voice of these animals. To me, they are everything,” says Joe. Lauren agrees, concluding: “Photography and videography [is] a way for me to show people the way I [see] sharks: as magnificent and awe-inspiring creatures that are essential to the health of ocean ecosystems.