Future Shark: Living in an Ocean on the Brink

Last week Discovery Channel successfully botched yet another Shark Week. Big surprise there. Don’t get me wrong, there were some (and by some I mean few) shows I did enjoy, but seriously when will they let poor Megalodon just die? He and his buds have been extinct for quite a while now, no need to bring them back.

Needless to say, if I was a shark, I’d be pissed. Why? Because sharks today suffer from real shark problems.

 

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Source: Shutterstock

(I hereby declare #realsharkproblems a thing. David Shiffman, please make it a thing.)

With millions of our finned friends killed every year for their various bits, many shark species face Megalodon’s fate should we continue on our current path. If they want blood and gore, maybe Discovery Channel should create a show or two about that.

Beyond overfishing and the finning industry however, sharks today, and in the not so distant future, face yet another surmounting threat.

Ocean acidification.

As you may or may not have learned on Shark Week, sharks and other elasmobranchs have a wicked sense of smell. They use their superior sniffers to find prey, mates, detect predators, and navigate in a seemingly endless ocean. All very important sharky behaviors.

flume exp

Shark trying to figure out where all the smelly goodness is coming from, but can’t. #realsharksproblems 

However a new study, out in Global Change Biology this month, demonstrates that increasingly acidified waters interfere with sharks ability to respond to these critical chemical stimuli. Can I get a #realsharkproblems up in here? Researchers discovered that exposing the smooth dogfish shark, Mustelus canis, to current, mid-range, and high-level CO2 conditions not only inhibited their ability to find prey, but also influenced their predatory behavior.

Not only is this a bad thing for sharks, but also for the greater ecosystem. Contrary to popular belief, sharks do not prefer to eat people. They do however like to eat fish, and often consume the sick and diseased fish, adding to overall ocean health. If they are unable to sense these fish, this could lead to any number of problems. Unfortunately, it is unknown as to whether or not shark species will be able to adapt fast enough to deal with the changes in ocean acidification predicted for 2100.

As if they didn’t have enough to deal with already…

Reference

Dixon, D.L., Jennings, A.R., Atema, J., Munday, P.L. (2014) Odor tracking in sharks is reduced under future ocean acidification conditions. Global Change Biology, 1-9. (Flume pictured)

Alex Warneke (56 Posts)

Alex Warneke currently resides as a graduate student at San Diego State University. As a chemical ecologist, Alex’s research focuses on the effects of heavy metal pollutants on the chemical communication between organisms. In her “free time,” Alex enjoys convincing the public that Ecology is indeed sexy. With that goal, she is a strong proponent of unconventional science communication and extending the broader impacts of her research to the general public using the outlets of film and social media. When she is not busy busting a move in the cold room or filming her next rap video, she can normally be found frolicking through the California kelp forest.





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3 comments on “Future Shark: Living in an Ocean on the Brink
  1. I also thought “shark week” was lacking this year. Why did we need so many episodes filled with real life ogre, and so few filled with science? Thanks for taking the time to address a real issue.

  2. Interesting and startling article if the ramifications for ocean acidification are true. On a positive note I did enjoy the shark week episode on deep sea sharks where a grad student (forget name) tagged along on a commercial deep sea ocean trawler to document, tag, and often times return alive incredible and often undiscovered deep sea sharks.

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