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Ahead of her third ‘Shark Week’ filming, URI grad student looks to capture the deep sea on camera

Christine de Silva is also the chief executive officer of Juice Robotics, which she called a “rugged” marine technology company, in Middletown, Rhode Island

Christine De Silva swimming under the ocean during a shark exploration.Sami Kattan

While Christine de Silva was still an undergraduate at the University of Miami, the head of the university’s Shark Research and Conservation lab came into a classroom and asked the students if anyone wanted to film a necropsy. De Silva’s hand went straight up and 10 years later, she is the chief executive officer of a small oceanography technology company in Rhode Island, a student at the University of Rhode Island’s Blue MBA program, and began filming deep sea sharks on Monday in South Africa for the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week.”

It’s De Silva’s third “Shark Week” filming since 2020 where she will represent her company Juice Robotics, her research with ocean conservation nonprofit Beneath the Waves, and URI.


Christine De Silva (far left) is the CEO of Juice Robotics in Middletown, R.I., which manufacturers affordable marine technology.Sami Kattan

Q: What were your previous “Shark Week” explorations about?

De Silva: A few years before my first filming, Beneath the Waves had put a video tag on the dorsal fin on a large female tiger shark in about 15 feet of water in the Bahamas. We typically think of tiger sharks as these creatures that love super-warm water, swimming through shallow waters around coral reefs or in seagrass. But in this video, we found this shark going down to waters that were 500 meters deep multiple times per day. Apparently there are these deep sea tiger sharks, so we went back to the Bahamas during my first filming of “Shark Week” to find these deep sea tiger sharks.

My second filming took place in Mexico where we were looking at white sharks and where they were pupping. I was able do cage diving with the white sharks, which was incredible.

What about this next filming?

In South Africa, we will be looking for alien sharks, which are these crazy looking sharks that are often found in the deep sea. It will be my job to bring two of these cameras that Juice Robotics makes to deploy off the coast to find crazy-looking animals, including these deep sea sharks. We want to figure out their importance and explain to viewers why they look a certain way. It will be less water time for me than usual, but I’m almost positive that I’ll fit in some shark swimming while I’m there. I hope to be working with some blue makos.


De Silva (left) and Austin Gallagher, founder of Beneath the Waves, retrieve a camera that had been filming at a depth of 1,200 meters – surveys that can measure biodiversity and abundance – in Tongue of the Ocean, Bahamas. Sami Kattan

What kind of equipment does your company, Juice Robotics, manufacture?

Juice Robotics is based right in Middletown where we manufacture everything in Rhode Island. We create smaller and more rugged marine technology. We started with cameras, but we’re not a camera company, and we’re moving into sensors, lights, and other equipment. All of it allows research, those in the defense industry, and others to access the ocean. Our equipment is more affordable on purpose and can be deployed from much smaller platforms and vessels.

What do you mean by “rugged” marine technology?

I use myself as an example of the end user. My background is in technology and I was really interested in studying the deep ocean and deep sea sharks. But I realized that I didn’t have the technology that I needed to answer the questions I wanted to ask. In most cases, the equipment I would need was too big to fit onto a boat we typically use, it was extremely expensive, and it was difficult to use.


I can fit our technology in my bag and take it right on the plane. It can be deployed from a boat, a jet ski, or using a drone. We don’t need a gas-guzzling vessel, we can even stand right on land and deploy with our drone. It’s a completely different way of looking at the deep sea.

De Silva, who is currently enrolled as an MBA student at the University of Rhode Island, takes photos of a hammerhead shark as it is released during an expedition in Biscayne Bay. Christine de Silva

Do you know of any explorations where Juice Robotics cameras were helpful in capturing creatures under the sea off the coast of New England?

We partnered with Brennan Phillips (assistant professor of ocean engineering at URI) to commercialize some of the technology he developed, so much of it has been tested in Rhode Island. In the greater New England area, I’ve used our baited remote underwater video system off the coast of Cape Cod. I dropped our video cameras (with bait attached) down to the sea floor — which was around 200 feet deep — and kept it there for about seven hours. We watched what kind of creatures came to collect the bait. We found a bunch of dogfish. It’s the same kind of equipment I’ll be taking with me to South Africa.

How will this equipment be used off the coast of South Africa, and what do you expect to see?

Our cameras will be dropped down between 1,000 to 3,000 meters below the surface in South Africa. There are lights around the camera so we’ll be able to see about 15 feet in front of the camera. We expect to see a lot of really interesting animals. Most of them are dark in color. Others are bright red — which is really common in the deep sea — such as bright red shrimp. We’ll keep the cameras down for several hours since these animals are not used to seeing bright lights so they’re usually cautious at first. We want to get them used to it [using various lighting settings] so that we can see them in a more natural state.


Many people hear about the deep sea and find it terrifying. But why is it important to understand the deep ocean and the creatures that live in it?

The deep ocean is such a vital part of our global system. It’s wild to think how little we know about it when it makes up the majority of our planet. We need to understand how it links to our carbon cycle. When something dies on the surface, it has carbon in it. When it falls to the seafloor, that carbon might be sequestered or kept down there for hundreds of thousands of years before currents bring it back up. So how does that work and how can we use that when we’re doing our modeling for climate change? Or how does it change the way we fish? For example, you’re seeing more deep sea fish hitting our plates [like orange roughy].

I think that fear or fascination is what makes me want to study it more. The more we know about something, the less we fear it — kind of like how we think about sharks.


De Silva drops equipment off the side of a boat, hoping to capture deep sea creatures on camera. Sami Kattan

The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Alexa Gagosz at

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at Follow her @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.