03 Feb

A Shark's Journey Through Climate Change

Slicing through the oceanic depths, sharks are graceful creatures with a row full of teeth that have haunted nightmares and received a dedicated viewership during Shark Week. From tail tip to nose, the shark skeleton is all cartilage, and its jaw is unattached at the skull, meaning that the jaw can enlarge to swallow large prey. While some similarities are drawn between fish and sharks, sharks also navigate the oceanic environment with the aid of a sophisticated electroreceptive system that allows them to detect slight electrical fields.

How Does Climate Change Affect Sharks?

Despite their agility and speed, sharks cannot outswim or out-maneuver the effects of climate change that are altering their habitats and life patterns.

The marine environment faces changes in sea level, water temperature, ocean chemistry, weather patterns, currents, coastal erosion, and storm frequency due to global warming. As climate change continues and intensifies, scientists point out that marine life will suffer in the areas of food supply, reproduction, migration patterns, and much more.

One notable change is that scientists have begun to observe that fish are moving away from the equator as temperatures increase. As the food supply move, sharks will also need to follow. Since sharks are slow to evolve, scientists worry that sharks may be swimming rapidly towards extinction.

Sharks grow slowly, mature late, and have a long reproductive process. Due to these factors, sharks adapt slowly to changing conditions within their environments.

The warming ocean temperature along with the acidity rise disrupts shark reproduction. Since sharks are forced to move to find cooler waters, their normal patterns of living have changed and many are choosing new environments for birthing their young. Meanwhile, the ocean acidification (OA) has elevated levels of CO2, which is revealing alterations in early development and behavior.

Studies have found that embryo survival and development time have not changed due to OA, but scientists have noted effects on shark bodies, growth, behavior, and more. Meanwhile, warming temperatures increased embryonic development and sharks’ appetite. While that’s not all bad, the increase of CO2 is a concern because research has revealed that it hampers the shark’s olfactory sense, meaning that their hunting is not quite as effective as it once was.

On another hand, the shark habitat is constantly being infringed upon by humans with overfishing, development, and waste. Pollution and fishing decrease the safe areas for sharks to breed, live, and hunt.

While data shows a drop in “unprovoked” attacks by sharks on humans, scientists have begun to ask why that is, raising concerns about the global shark population. In fact, between 2017 and 2018, data revealed a drop with a difference of 20+ attacks. Scientists are unable to pinpoint one reason for this drop, but the belief is rooted in a smaller population and global warming.

Sharks may not be your favorite animal, but you can still take a few simple steps to help protect sharks and their habitat. First of all, take the time to research what’s going on with sharks and global warming. Secondly, never purchase shark products or seafood that may have been caught irresponsibly. To take your action one step further, join an organization that specifically works to raise awareness and preserve shark habitats.

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