Meet Roboshark - the mechanical fish that has netted the BBC hours of ocean footage

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The Independent Online

With its sleek, torpedo-shaped frame, it can glide alongside the ocean's deadliest sharks without fear of attack. But despite the convincing disguise, Roboshark is no predator. It is a mechanical pretender planted in the waters by the BBC with a mission to film its flesh-and-blood counterparts.

The free-swimming animatronic submarine was put in the world's most shark-infested waters for film makers to capture an intimate glimpse of life inside shark packs. Programmed to simulate the swimming patterns of real sharks, Roboshark gathered data while cruising with bull, tiger and great white sharks. By building a camera within its six-foot body, the BBC's Natural History Unit gained hours of unique footage.

The resulting programme, Smart Sharks, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, explodes the Jaws stereotype of a shark as a mindless killer.

Andrew Sneath, 39, a former Rover car engineer, made Roboshark, whose actions are controlled by underwater signals that it picks up through a receiver on its back.

Its first mission was to patrol Bikini Atoll, in Micronesia, South Pacific, which is home to the largest numbers of aggressive grey reef sharks, the species on which Roboshark's design was based. Despite the physical similarity, the grey reef sharks sensed something was amiss and rejected the device.

It then swam withthresher sharks in the Philippines, witnessing giant whale sharks gorging on snapper spawn off Belize. Hammerhead sharks were filmed communicating through sign language and bronze whaler sharks seemed to participate in co-operative hunting during their South African sardine run.

Spectacular scenes show great whites catching seals in mid-air. In one incident, Roboshark is attacked by a great white after getting too close to a seal carcass.

The programme suggests that sharks possess large brains and integrated sensory systems.Sir David said sharks displayed a surprising degree of sophistication. "Sharks have social lives, communicate with body language and can learn and remember.

"But if they are shown to be more intelligent, will that defuse our fear - or is a smarter shark more terrifying than ever?"

The documentary will air on 27 July at 8pm.