Story at a glance

  • Researchers examined the effects of warming water temperatures on the development of the Great Barrier Reef’s epaulette shark — a small, egg-laying species that spends most of its time on the seafloor.
  • The study found warmer water temperatures caused the sharks to be born smaller, undernourished and exhausted.
  • “We found that the hotter the conditions, the faster everything happened, which could be a problem for the sharks,” Carolyn Wheeler, a doctoral candidate behind the study, said in a statement.

The future may be just too warm for baby sharks as ocean temperatures are hitting record highs. 

A new study recently published in the journal Scientific Reports is shedding light on how rising ocean temperatures caused by climate change could cause baby sharks to be born smaller, undernourished and exhausted. 


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Researchers from Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University and the University of Massachusetts examined the effects of warming temperatures on the development of the Great Barrier Reef’s epaulette shark — a small, egg-laying species that spends most of its time on the seafloor. 

In the study conducted at the New England Aquarium, researchers analyzed embryos and hatchlings that developed in average summer ocean temperatures, 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and temperatures forecast for the end of the century, 87.6 degrees Fahrenheit. 

“We found that the hotter the conditions, the faster everything happened, which could be a problem for the sharks,” Carolyn Wheeler, a doctoral candidate behind the study, said in a statement

“The embryos grew faster and used their yolk sac quicker, which is their only source of food as they develop in the egg case. This led to them hatching earlier than usual,” Wheeler said, noting that hatchlings needed to feed almost immediately while lacking significant energy. 

Researchers note that sharks and the class of animals they belong to, including rays and skates, are slow growing and do not reproduce as often as other fish. 

Jodie Rummer, Wheeler’s co-supervisor who worked on the study, said rising ocean temperatures could threaten future sharks, including egg-laying and live-bearing species, as the animals will be born into environments difficult for them to survive in.

“The epaulette shark is known for its resilience to change, even to ocean acidification. So, if this species can’t cope with warming waters, then how will other, less tolerant species fare?” Rummer said. 


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Published on Jan 13, 2021