TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Some species of sharks and their locations could be an indicator of whether tropical weather is about to strike in your area, according to new research that supports previous research conducted by Mote Marine Laboratory.
Mote’s research from summer 2001 used a series of underwater receivers that tracked the positions of 41 young blacktip sharks fitted with transmitters ahead of Tropical Storm Gabrielle in a nursery area of Terra Ceia Bay. Doctor Bob Hueter, a retired shark researcher with Mote Marine Laboratory and current OSEARCH employee, was involved.
“We were able to track them as they responded to the hurricane before it even got here – as they left and then rode out the hurricane outside and then came back in,” Dr. Hueter said of the research.
He said sharks in shallow environments, such as in lower Tampa Bay, tend to move in to deeper waters when a storm brews.
“The deepest depth is maybe about 10 feet in lower Tierra Ceia Bay, maybe 10 or 12 feet, most [likely] less than that, so if a hurricane comes through, you can imagine how it turns that whole habitat upside down. And clearly, it’s time for them to get out and get into deeper water,” he said.
Dr. Hueter believes the sharks can sense the barometric pressure through their inner ears, rather than be alerted by wind or rain, like humans are.
“As that started to plummet, they said, ‘it’s time to go,’ and then they left, and came back up after the storm had passed,” Dr. Hueter explained.
He said the black tip sharks eventually returned in “about a week or so” after the storm had passed.
Dr. Hueter commented on recent research regarding tiger sharks and other large sharks off the coast of Miami. The new research states that four large species of sharks were tracked in Little Bahamas Bank and Biscayne Bay, during Category 4 and 5 storms, including Hurricane Irma.
“We tested whether sharks would evacuate shallow coastal habitats (and thus exit the acoustic arrays) during the hurricanes and exhibit comparable size of activity spaces pre- and post-storms, as has been previously found for smaller (50–150 cm fork length) sharks elsewhere,” the research states.
The research found that tiger sharks monitored in the path of Hurricane Matthew in 2016 were consistent in locations before and after the storm. After the storm, daily tiger shark detections doubled.
Research states 32 sharks including the tiger shark species, as well as nurse sharks and great hammerhead sharks, were tracked for the research.
While tracked nurse sharks and bull sharks moved from the area during a storm, the outlier was the tiger shark, near the Bahamas, which didn’t seem to move away.
Dr. Hueter would call the work with tiger sharks and their lack of moving during tropical weather “preliminary.”
“It’s an interesting finding, I would say again it’s preliminary and this needs to be looked at again and tested again,” he said.
Dr. Hueter also called tiger sharks “interesting in the shark world” for unusual behavior. The species are known as “roamers.”
”I guess in the case of these Bahaman sharks, they just decided to ride it out right there and apparently just picked up where they left off after the storm had passed,” Dr. Hueter said.
We don’t often see tiger sharks here in the Tampa Bay area, though it’s not impossible. Dr. Hueter’s research with black tip sharks, a common species here, has been brought to light.
The Atlantic hurricane season officially started Tuesday.