While Other Sharks Try to Flee Danger During Hurricanes, Tiger Sharks Are Unfazed

Hurricanes can pack wind speeds over 150 miles per hour, produce storm surges of more than 25 feet, and destroy all manner of things in their paths. Normally, you’d want to evacuate, right? Not if you’re a tiger shark.

Scientists from the University of Miami tracked movements of four different species of sharks during recent hurricanes to see how they each behaved. They found that tiger sharks headed to where the action was. The findings were published in May in the journal Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science.

PHOTO: NOAA FISHERIES

To conduct the study, researchers looked at acoustic tag data from tiger sharks, bull sharks, nurse sharks, and great hammerheads during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017. While the other three species largely headed out to deeper waters as the storms hit, that’s not what the tigers did.

Neil Hammerschlag, a research associate professor at the UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, says, “I was amazed to see that big tiger sharks didn’t evacuate even as the eye of the hurricane was bearing down on them, it was as if they didn’t even flinch.”

The researchers explain that when shallow inshore waters in the Bahamas sustained the direct hit from the eye of Hurricane Matthew, which was a category five storm, large tiger sharks stayed put. As soon as the storm passed through, they even doubled. The research team does have a theory about the last part, though.

Hammerschlag says, “We suspect tiger sharks were probably taking advantage of all the new scavenging opportunities from dead animals that were churned up in the storm.”

PHOTO: FACEBOOK/NOAA FISHERIES

With regard to the other species, nurse, hammerhead, and bull sharks almost uniformly left the shallow waters of Biscayne Bay when Hurricane Irma passed through Miami. This is a common behavior in smaller sharks, too.

Though the findings drive home how intimidating tiger sharks can be, they also gathered important information on another topic.

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Hammerschlag explains, “Major storms, like hurricanes, are predicted to increase in frequency and strength with climate change. How these storms impact the environment, including large sharks, is of interest and conservation concern to many.”

Tiger sharks can grow up to 18 feet and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. They have tiger-like stripes that fade with age. They’re known to eat pretty much anything, even other sharks and garbage. You can find them in tropical and warm-temperature waters, from river mouths out to open ocean.

PHOTO: NOAA FISHERIES
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