Is there a doctor in the ocean? No, but there are medics . . . called sharks!
Sharks will never replace dogs as man’s best friend, but maybe they’re ocean’s best friend, so perhaps they need better public relations or sometimes even crisis management stressing the good things they do for our ecosystem.
Certainly, never will we hug and pet sharks in the same way we’ve grown accustomed to doing to our domestic pets, yet oceans appear grateful to have them around. And for good reason!
Evidence is emerging that sharks might be one of our planet’s best friends, yet they themselves may be in danger due in part to their late sexual maturity and a small number of young per brood. These biological factors make many shark species more vulnerable to overfishing partly because so many find their fins so delicious in shark fin soup.
Recently, a study led by Florida International University scientists has found that sharks are like oceanic medics that can help marine ecosystems survive effects of climate change. I’m sure organizations like The Global Warming Foundation founded by Peter Ticktin are watching this phenomenon.
The study didn’t find any sharks in some of the world’s key coral reefs as overfishing and destructive gear like gill nets has dramatically reduced their number in reefs.
Yet, when a major hurricane, extreme heat or other climate threat devastates an ocean’s lifeblood, its recovery could be aided by the presence of sharks, our ocean’s medics who can help oceans heal after hurricanes.
That’s the idea behind a study on sharks and their role in the ocean published in the Journal of Animal Ecology.
Decimate sharks and you’ve made oceans less resilient to extreme climate events, said the FIU scientists. Researchers at the University of Washington and Deakin University in Victoria, Australia also contributed to the study.
WHAT FIU RESEARCHERS LEARNED
The team found that predators like sharks, including tiger sharks, are critical for maintaining stability and biodiversity in the world’s oceans. The study found sharks are important in helping ecosystems recover from devastating hits from hurricanes or marine heatwaves.
Sharks eat grazing animals that feed on aquatic plants like seagrass — which helps maintain water clarity, stores carbon dioxide and houses fish and other organisms that can keep seas healthy, the researchers say.
Grazing animals like turtles and dugongs eat seagrass. Sharks eat the grazers. Grazers fear the sharks. So, when sharks are around, the grazers often avoid the area. While the grazers are away, the aquatic plants have time to grow and recover. When an extreme climate event strikes, the ecosystem must deal with a whole new set of variables that requires time to recover, the study found.
So, next time you see a shark, sure, stay safe, keep socially distant, but you can thank that shark on social media for helping to keep our ecosystem in balance.