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Scientists Swap Research Divers for Tiger Sharks

Tiger sharks are known for a lot of things. They are fearless. They are giants. They are ruthless predators. But did you know they are also marine scientists?

Photo Credit: Getty

Scientists (the human ones) have been studying seagrass meadows on the ocean floor for many years. This important ecosystem provides many benefits to the ocean world. They are a feeding ground for many other ocean life, create a buffer against coastal erosion, and are a significant source of “blue carbon” – a vital tool in the climate crisis. Unfortunately, due to the fact that seagrass meadows cover such a wide area and require a close up view, it has been slow progress. Divers can only spend a limited amount of time underwater and are restricted to research only during certain weather conditions, not to mention the equipment and safety precautions they must take.

The same is not true for the tiger shark. They are highly mobile, cover a large area of space quickly, and frequently spend time in seagrass meadows. So instead of sending another team of divers down, researchers recruited tiger sharks from the Bahamas. They safely attached cameras and trackers to their dorsal fins before releasing them back into the water. The biodegradable attachment dissolved after 6 hours, at which point the whole package floated back up to the surface for the researchers to retrieve. The sharks got better footage of the seagrass meadows than the scientists could have and in a fraction of the time.

Photo Credit: Austin Gallagher

The researchers hope that what they discover thanks to this team of sharks will encourage better protections for the seagrass meadows in the Bahamas and worldwide. Scientists involved in the project, and outside of it as well, agree that coastal ecosystems like the seagrass meadows are among our best allies in mitigating the effects of climate change.

They also hope to partner with marine animals on future projects to map ocean habitats. With so much of the ocean still undiscovered and unresearched, what better way to learn more about it than directly from its inhabitants!

Photo Credit: Getty

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