Warming ocean temperatures are causing sharks to be born prematurely

Posted by Kyro Mitchell on 13 January 2021

The ongoing climate crisis is having a devastating impact on the environment. The latest species to feel the effect of warming global temperatures are sharks.

Warming ocean temperatures are causing sharks to be born earlier than normal

According to a study conducted by a team of Australian scientists, warming ocean temperatures are causing baby sharks to be born much quicker than they normally would. This leads to the sharks being born smaller, undernourished, and exhausted. Couple that with the fact that oceans around the world are already a difficult place for them to survive in, a number of shark species could be under threat.

The team of scientists came to this conclusion by studying the effects increased temperatures had on the growth, development and physiological performance of a species of shark called ‘Epaulette’ sharks. They chose this species of shark because they’re known for having a strong resilience to change, so if they can’t cope with warming waters, it’s safe to say no other shark species would be able to cope.

We tested shark embryos in waters up to 31C. The hotter the conditions, the faster everything happened, which could be a problem for the sharks,’ said Carolyn Wheeler, PhD candidate at James Cook University and lead author of the study.

During the experiment, Wheeler and her team found that the shark embryos grew much faster than expected. This is because the baby sharks were consuming their yolk sac, which is their only source of food as they develop in the egg case, quicker than they usually would. This led them to hatch much earlier than usual.

This domino effect has a devastating effect on the sharks when they eventually hatch from their eggs. Not only are the sharks much smaller than they would normally be, but they also needed to feed immediately, all whilst lacking significant energy to hunt.

The study suggests the sharks of the future will be born, or hatch, in this case, not only at a disadvantage but into environments already at the warmest they can tolerate.

‘The study presents a worrying future given that sharks are already threatened. Sharks are important predators that keep ocean ecosystems healthy. Without predators, whole ecosystems can collapse, which is why we need to keep studying and protecting these creatures,’ Wheeler added.


Picture: James Cook University


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