The National Centers for Environmental Information says that about 70° to 78° Fahrenheit is ideal for ocean swimming. Any less and the coolness can impair blood circulation. Any more and it is just not comfortable to move around in a saltwater bath.
It turns out sharks also have a preferred temperature for their water. And this is largely what dictates where they like to spend their time. Much like us humans, sharks plan their vacations around the climate.
This seems to be the case with many species who live in the ocean -- but they are all also experiencing their seasonal migrations a bit differently these days.
As the ocean’s temperatures have started shifting -- a product of climate change -- the normal migration patterns of ocean life have shifted. This has had a large effect on the fishing industry, for sure.
But wait, haven't ocean temperatures always been shifting?
In some way, this is not entirely new. The climate of the world has always been ‘changing.’ But what is pressing about this era is the rate at which it is changing. Many species, both oceanic and not, migrate to some degree; but they’ve never needed to migrate this quickly. Indeed, researchers at Stanford claim that the rate of our climate’s change is moving ten times faster than it has in known history.
What does this mean for our shark friends? That is mostly speculation. For the coming years, it seems that sharks will mostly be migrating to areas where the temperature better suits them. Noting that sharks are apex predators, this will have dramatic effects on oceanic ecosystems.
There is also speculation as to how this might affect sharks' behavior. If they migrate elsewhere, will they still have the same access to foods? If not, will they get cranky? (I would…)
But in the distant future, this could be more dangerous for sharks than a mere vacation. They are a slow evolving species that has lived for millions of years with relatively few shifts in their day-to-day climate. Their bodies might not be able to deal with such rapid changes in their environment.
Will we still keep seeing sharks in our oceans? Of course, the effects of changing temperatures motivate various shark species in various ways. However, it might mean that many of the ‘shark hubs’ of the South, like Florida, end up moving further North.
So what does this mean for us?
At the end of the day, this provides us with a reflection on our relationships with these kings of the sea. We often say that the ocean is ‘their home’ and in many ways it is. But we would also do well to remember that because of the massive institutions that humans have made, it is somewhat ‘our ocean’ too. Not that we own the ocean, so much as we have a responsibility to care for it.
This responsibility isn’t something to be taken lightly. Some of the first known shark species are up to 420 million years old (older than TREES). When we care for the ocean we are partly caring for the world, but also taking care to ensure that their history continues.
While it can be easy to dislike sharks up close, it would be unwise to dislike them from afar. But we must remember the context. They do not want to harm us -- they don’t want to disturb our home. Why should we want to hurt them? Why should we want to disrupt their home?