Forecasters expect the
Atlantic hurricane season that began this week to bring increasingly fierce storms to the US east coast. One notoriously fierce kind of shark, however, does not seem likely to be swimming for cover.
study published in the journal Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science found that while some species of large sharks will bolt from shallow coastal habitats in the face of fierce storms, tiger sharks seem to relish the turbulent seas and winds.
“It was as if they didn’t even flinch,” one researcher said.
As the Miami Herald
explained, the sharks seem particularly happy to be around immediately after big storms have passed.
The researchers behind the study used tracking devices to monitor tiger shark activity. They found that in 2016, despite a direct hit from
Hurricane Matthew at the north-west edge of Little Bahama Bank, tiger sharks’ presence in the area was “consistent before and during the hurricane”.
Matthew was a category 5 storm with
winds reaching 165 mph (266 kph). Immediately after the storm, the researchers said, “daily tiger shark detections approximately doubled”.
The situation was different for bull, nurse and great hammerhead sharks near Biscayne Bay off Miami during Hurricane Irma, a category 4 storm with winds of 130mph which hit in 2017.
When the eye of the storm moved 87 miles west, “most sharks previously present in the array were no longer detected”, researchers said.
Researchers found that unlike smaller species previously determined to flee shallow waters during storms, larger sharks had an array of responses.
“I was amazed to see that
big tiger sharks didn’t evacuate even as the eye of the hurricane was bearing down on them,” said Neil Hammerschlag of the University of Miami, a study co-author.
“It was as if they didn’t even flinch. Their numbers even increased after the storm passed. We suspect tiger sharks were probably taking advantage of all the new scavenging opportunities from dead animals churned up in the storm.”
The climate crisis is expected to worsen the strength and intensity of east coast hurricanes.
Research has also shown that the climate crisis has pushed an even bigger species, great white sharks, into new waters, spurring a dramatic decline in endangered wildlife populations.