By: Kyle Grammatica
Thanks to research from Florida State University, we now know more about how sharks navigate our oceans. Biologists exposed bonnethead sharks to magnetic conditions that simulated locations hundreds of miles south from where they were caught. The sharks responded to these conditions by swimming north in an attempt to return home. This research backs up the long-held theory that sharks use the Earth’s magnetic fields for navigation like sea turtles and other marine animals.
Many shark species, like bonnetheads, undertake long-distance migrations but return to the same estuaries every year. Based on the study’s results, it seems magnetic fields are guiding them home. More research is needed to determine if larger sharks use the same methods, but the researchers noted that it is unlikely that they would differ.
The research team also hopes this study will aid in the management of shark species. Many shark species have suffered severe population loss over the years; the worldwide abundance of sharks and rays has dropped by more than 70% since 1970. As apex predators, sharks play an essential role in the marine ecosystem. In addition to ensuring balance in the food chain, sharks help control the distribution of species through intimidation. Their presence causes some species to alter their habitat use and activity level, preventing the monopolization of limited resources. Sharks also provide food sources for scavenger species and remove the sick and weak individuals from prey populations, leading to the better health of the ecosystem as a whole. Studies have shown that the presence of sharks leads to greater biodiversity and higher densities of individuals. Without them, there is the potential for unchecked predation by other species, overeating of vegetation by herbivores, and increased competition that harms the health of the ecosystem.
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