DOI: 10.3390/fishes8090428 ISSN:

Some Like It Hot: Investigating Thermoregulatory Behavior of Carcharhinid Sharks in a Natural Environment with Artificially Elevated Temperatures

Adi Barash, Aviad Scheinin, Eyal Bigal, Ziv Zemah Shamir, Stephane Martinez, Aileen Davidi, Yotam Fadida, Renanel Pickholtz, Dan Tchernov
  • Ecology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

Global warming raises seawater temperatures and creates changes which have been found to affect the movement of large migrating marine species. Understanding the thermal niches of marine species could prove essential to anticipate how the future climate will alter migrations, and how conservation efforts will have to change accordingly. Orot Rabin power station in Hadera, Israel uses seawater to cool its turbine and releases the warm water back into the Mediterranean Sea. As a result, a marine area with artificially elevated temperatures is created around the effluent. Every winter in the past two decades, this area attracts sharks of two species, Carcharhinus obscurus and Carcharhinus plumbeus, presumably to spend the cold months at a higher temperature. This study concentrated on this point of artificial heat dissipation, which maintains a wide gradient of surface temperatures and allowed us to examine the temperature preferences of these species when given a larger range than what is naturally found in the sea. Between 2016 and 2018, 16 sharks were tagged with acoustic tags, 3 of which had temperature sensors, and 2 were additionally tagged with pop-up archival tags also logging temperature data. Results show that the sharks stayed in the elevated temperature, while the ambient sea was cold during the winter, spending several months in the heated area. Both species displayed a similar preferred range, spending 90 percent of their time at a temperature between 21.8 °C and 26.1 °C while the surrounding sea was 15.5–25.5 °C. Considering this chosen thermal niche and the rise in water temperature, it appears that for the past 40 years, the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean have become more suitable for these species, especially during transitional seasons. The question that arises, however, is whether these shark populations will benefit from the expanding range of preferable temperatures, or whether their proximity to shorelines will put them at greater risk in terms of human activities such as fishing and pollution.

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