Submerged Perspectives
: Exploring Interspecific Interactions of Marine Animals in Collaboration with Nature Documentary Filmmakers

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Science by Research (MScR)


Documentary footage provides a unique resource for discovering and analysing novel, complex behaviours. While anecdotal data from such footage is often dismissed due to reliability concerns, it serves as a vital source for identifying rare and intriguing behaviours. By re-evaluating how we regard these observations, we can highlight their value for further scientific study.
The first chapter of this thesis explores interspecific symbiotic interactions seen in the marine environment. The second chapter demonstrates the merit of anecdotal film data, highlighting its importance, exploring inherent challenges, and shows anecdotal film data as an asset in uncovering rare behaviours, observing elusive events, and sparking new avenues of inquiry. The third chapter analyses interactions between Cape fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus) and predatory white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias), using the latest documentary footage from a forthcoming Netflix series. Mobbing behaviours displayed by seals in response to shark aggression offers insights into a more complex predator–prey interaction. Analysis of this shows that aggressive actions of sharks significantly influence the mobbing responses of seals. These findings contribute to our understanding of group behaviours in prey species deterring predation, evidencing the valuable use of film footage for scientific analysis.
Despite challenges associated with analysing documentary footage, this study underscores the potential for collaboration between filmmakers and scientists. By involving experts in relevant fields in the production process, both filmmakers and scientists can benefit. This would not only enhance understanding of the natural world but also engages and educate a broader audience.
In conclusion, documentary footage offers a wealth of untapped potential for scientific discovery and analysis of behaviours. By recognising anecdotal data’s value and fostering collaboration between filmmakers and scientists, we can unlock new insights into the behaviours of species, advancing our knowledge of the natural world and encouraging continued exploration of novel avenues for research.
Date of Award7 May 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorSteve Simpson (Supervisor) & Andrew N Radford (Supervisor)

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