Scientists might have found the key to an enduring ocean mystery over sharks’ existence within one of the world’s most active submarine volcanoes, according to recent National Geographic documentary “Sharkcano”.
Speaking to Australia’s 9News, Dr. Michael Heithaus, a marine ecologist who took part in the research studying sharks’ attraction to volcanoes, explained that these predatory animals were able to survive in an active crater 18 metres below the surface of Kavachi thanks to a special cluster of powers on their snout, a so-called “Ampullae of Lorenzini”. The researcher argues that it is this mysterious “sixth sense” that may help them to detect changes in the magnetic field of our planet and thus swim away prior to any possible eruptions.
“It just demonstrates how adaptable sharks are”, Professor Heithaus from Department of Biological Sciences at Florida International University explains. “Extreme environments are something they can clearly handle; whether it's a volcano or surviving thousands of metres underwater”.
“It looked like the sharks in the volcano were used to dealing with eruptions”, the researcher said. “You would think it's dangerous but studies have shown us they can detect approaching hurricanes and cyclones, so they may be able to detect when something bad is about to happen and move out of the way”.
According to the professor, the link between sharks and volcanos was clear despite the research still being in progress. However, Heithaus still was not able to say with certainty why sharks were so attracted to a nearly-boiling spot.
“It's really not yet known why they are there. It could be something to do with reproduction, or who knows what else is living in there... maybe they're just sniffing out a meal”, he adds.
Reef sharks and hammerheads were first spotted at Kavachi volcano back in 2015, during an expedition by a team led by Dr Brennan Phillips. The researchers did not expect to see anything apart from some small marine life so their discovery of sharks swimming across the caldera came as a shock.
Professor Heithaus, who has been studying sharks for the last 25 years, has continued his research into the habits of these tenacious predators at the shores of Réunion Island, which is home to an active shield volcano, Piton de la Fournaise. Sharks are living there in abundant numbers, making swimming dangerous for locals following a number of deaths.
According to Heithaus, it is the “cloudy” state of the waters near the volcano’s slope that actually may explain why this place is so attractive to “smart” ocean hunters. They probably also feet safer there due to an absence of large-scale fishing, the researcher notes, plus, he says “who doesn’t like a hot tub?”