Today’s Solutions: November 30, 2021

Sharks are the apex predators of the ocean. They consume between 0.5 to 3.0 percent of their body weight each meal, which takes two to three days to digest. Depending on which species out of nearly 400 we are talking about, their diet consists of fish, crustaceans, stingrays, turtles, squid, dolphins, and anything in between. So it seems pretty normal to be wary of these predators, right?

Well for some fish it seems this isn’t the case as they have been recorded on camera snuggling with sharks. A research group from the University of Miami documented 47 instances of this phenomenon from 13 locations around the world. They captured fish and small sharks swimming alongside larger predators and rubbing all over them. Dauntless fish were seen brushing themselves against a shark’s nose and even in contact with Great Whites. They obviously haven’t watched ‘Jaws!’

What kind of scales do sharks have?

The team published their findings in the journal Ecology and have a few theories why this may be occurring. Associate professor and study co-author Neil Hammerschlag said, “Shark skin is covered in small tooth-like scales called dermal denticles, which provide a rough sandpaper surface for the chafing fish. We suspect that chafing against shark skin might play a vital role in the removal of parasites or other skin irritants, thus improving fish health and fitness.”

All that risk for a back rub

Sea creatures actively seeking out inanimate objects to rub against, such as on rocks or sand, have been well documented for a while. However, this shark-chafing occurrence is the only known phenomenon where prey actively search for their predator and make contact with them. Putting themselves in this risky situation for up to five minutes, the ecological role must be of high importance.

In all habitats, organisms work together to balance nature and sometimes assist each other. Understanding more about the necessities of marine life allows for better conservation of the organisms themselves and also their territories.

Source study: Ecology – Sharks as exfoliators: widespread chafing between marine organisms suggests an unexplored ecological role

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