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Graduate’s engineering work featured on Shark Week

Carl Fiester, E’14, calls his December expedition to Guadalupe Island “the craziest adventure I have ever been on.”

Fiester and his team at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution spent 10 days tagging and tracking great white sharks that populate the island’s waters off Mexico’s west coast using an autonomous underwater vehicle that the young alumnus helped design. What the team came away with was some intense and eye-opening footage of great white shark behavior.

The expedition’s footage and the Woods Hole team were featured Monday night on Jaws of the Deep as part of the Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week series.

“The waters were completely shark infested,” says Fiester, a graduate of Northeastern’s mechanical engineering program. “At one point, a 16-foot female shark swam right up to our boat.”

Fiester was one of three engineers on the trip, having helped design the newest version of the REMUS SharkCam AUV that can track sharks to a depth of 600 meters. The original SharkCam—which was also used to capture footage—can track sharks up to 100 meters below the water surface.

The waters were completely shark infested. At one point, a 16-foot female shark swam right up to our boat.”
—Carl Fiester, E’14

Fiester said he enjoys working to solve the various challenges of his job, from trying to determine the best way to outfit the nose of the AUV so the vehicle can work efficiently to making sure the two vehicles follow the sharks that have been tagged.

“We don’t have a live stream as the vehicles are underwater,” he explained. “So it is kind of hard to tell what you will get until the vehicle comes back to the surface. It is absolutely exhilarating.” In some cases, that could include bite marks or scratches from great whites that got a little to close to the SharkCams.

Having dreamed of working in marine science for most of his life, Fiester, a Cape Cod resident, was able to immerse himself in the field through Northeastern’s co-op program. His second co-op as an undergraduate student was at Hydroid, a marine robotics company. But while he enjoyed his time at Hydroid, Fiester wanted his third co-op to focus on the research and development aspect of marine science and engineering. So he found a co-op at Woods Hole on Cape Cod and then returned there to work full time after graduating.

“This was my first time working with sharks, and that is some cool stuff, but what is interesting to me is being able to make sure the vehicles follow the acoustic tag on the shark and see where it is going to go,” Fiester said. “That is an incredibly hard problem to solve and we are the only ones doing it.”