Sharks Might Be Able to Help Predict Tropical Storms

Still, they’re no match for NOAA.

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.

Blacktip sharks
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Recent research published in the journal Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science piggybacks on an original study by WFLA from 2001. In the first study, 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 OCEARCH 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.

In the newer Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science study, 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 Matthew 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.

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  1. Gutowsky LF, Rider MJ, Roemer RP, et al. Large sharks exhibit varying behavioral responses to major hurricanes. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci. 2021;256:107373. doi:10.1016/j.ecss.2021.107373

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