Several species of shark, ranging from reef sharks, hammerheads and scalloped hammerheads have made an expected appearance in one of the world’s most active submarine volcanoes. Exactly why sharks inhabit this area remain one of the world’s enduring marine mysteries.
Marine ecologist Michael Heithaus of Florida International University, has dedicated his life to answer why the apex predators are attracted to volcanoes.
I thought it sounded like a sci-fi movie. It’s an amazing find
Professor Michael Heithaus
Professor Heithaus was surprised by the discovery, which he said occurred by chance.
He said: ”I thought it sounded like a sci-fi movie. It’s an amazing find.
“It just demonstrates how adaptable sharks are.
“Extreme environments are something they can clearly handle; whether it’s a volcano or surviving thousands of metres underwater.
“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.”
The shocking discovery was made in 2015 at the Solomon Islands’ Kavachi volcano in a National Geographic documentary.
Scientists have since dubbed the marine volcano the “Sharkcano”.
But further studies into the sharks’ strange behaviour have been disrupted because of Kavachi’s activity.
Questions, therefore, remain as to how sharks survive in an active crater, 60ft (18m) below the surface, where temperatures approach boiling point.
Professor Heithaus believes the answer may relate to a cluster of pores on their snout called the ampullae of Lorenzini.
He suspects these can detect changes in the earth’s magnetic field.
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This may potentially allow sharks to swim to safety before a volcanic eruption.
This mysterious sixth sense may also allow sharks to hunt and search for other volcanic islands.
He said: ”It looked like the sharks in the volcano were used to dealing with eruptions.
“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.”
Professor Heithaus also thinks there is a significant correlation between sharks and volcanoes.
His studies have taken him to Réunion Island, also home to the active volcano Piton de la Fournaise.
Sharks are so abundant there, swimming was made illegal in the last few years.
Eleven people have died in attacks since 2011, mostly by bull sharks.
Professor Heithaus believes these sharks took advantage of the fact sediment washes down from the volcano’s slope.
The cloudy waters make an ideal hunting ground for the apex predators.
However, sharks have an overall positive impact on the environment.
A recent study revealed sharks are functionally extinct on nearly one in five coral reefs.
Professor Heithaus said extreme habitats ironically provides a safe-haven for them.
He said: ”The biggest threat to sharks by far is overfishing.
“There are just too many being caught and that is being driven by the demand for fins and shark meat.
“You’re not going to go fishing around a volcano and probably some of the bigger sharks, who are predators, will be less inclined to go in there.
“We may not know exactly why they are there but the fact we saw so many in a fairly short window of time, suggests it is an important place to those sharks.
“If it wasn’t a great place to live they probably wouldn’t be there… who doesn’t like a hot tub?”
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