Sharks Might Be Able to Help Predict Tropical Storms
It seems that even sharks know when to get out of dodge during hurricane season.
A growing amount of research suggests that the locations of some species of sharks could predict when tropical weather is about to strike an area.
According to WFLA, one of the first indications that sharks know to flee the path of oncoming storms came from a study conducted by Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, in summer 2001. Researchers tracked the positions of 41 young blacktip sharks in the shallow waters of Terra Ceia Bay ahead of Tropical Storm Gabrielle.
"We were able to track them as they responded to the hurricane before it even got here—as they left and then rode out the hurricane outside and then came back in," Dr. Bob Hueter, a retired shark researcher with Mote Marine Laboratory and current OSEARCH Shark Tracker employee, explained to WFLA.
He added that it's common for sharks in shallow environments to move into deeper waters as storms approach.
"If a hurricane comes through, you can imagine how it turns that whole habitat upside down," Hueter told the local news station. "And clearly, it's time for them to get out and get into deeper water."
How do they know? He believes sharks can sense the drop in barometric pressure that occurs ahead of tropical disturbances.
New research published in the journal Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science piggybacks on Hueter's original study, only this time, scientists focused on species of sharks that are larger than the blacktip.
Scientists monitored the movement of 32 bull, nurse, and tiger sharks off the coast of Miami during Category 4 and 5 storms, including Hurricanes Mathew and Irma.
Interestingly, while some of the sharks moved away from the storms, the tiger sharks and two nurse sharks stayed put.
Why would smaller sharks flee, and larger sharks stay? Authors of the study admit that their findings are preliminary, and more research is needed. Speaking with WFLA, Hueter agreed.
This isn't the first time shark movement has stumped scientists. Researchers are also busy unlocking the reason some species swim in circles.