Do hurricanes repel large sharks?

University of Miami study shows what happened after Irma and Matthew

A new study led by scientists at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science tracked large sharks in Miami and The Bahamas to understand how these migratory animals respond to major storms, like hurricanes.
A new study led by scientists at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science tracked large sharks in Miami and The Bahamas to understand how these migratory animals respond to major storms, like hurricanes.

We now know what happens when large sharks clash with major hurricanes thanks to a new paper released by the University of Miami.

When Hurricane Matthew spun up the east coast of Florida in 2016 scientists were tracking sharks swimming below to see how they responded to the storms. Tiger sharks didn’t seem to mind a storm’s fury while many other species stayed clear.

UM researchers tagged four different species of sharks with transmitters to track swimming patterns around Miami and the Bahamas.

It turns out tiger sharks don’t mind taking a direct hit by a Category 5 hurricane. They stayed in the shallow waters around Little Bahama Bank while bull sharks, nurse sharks and great hammerheads evacuated.

In fact, after the storm passed tiger shark populations doubled in the area.

Neil Hammerschlag, a research associate professor at the UM Rosenstiel School and the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy suspects “tiger sharks were probably taking advantage of all the new scavenging opportunities from dead animals that were churned up in the storm.”

A year later Hurricane Irma provided an opportunity within Biscayne Bay as the eye of the storm tracked over a hundred miles west of the shallow bay. All but two nurse sharks present before the storm were gone after it passed.

This was the first study to document large shark species under the threat of Category 4 and 5 hurricane conditions.

Other studies by Mote Marine laboratory looked at smaller blacktip sharks in Terra Ceia Bay as Tropical Storm Gabrielle approached. In that weaker storm sharks fled into deeper water several hours before it arrived. It was the only time the sharks had left the nursery likely due to a dramatic drop in barometric pressure preceding the storm.


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