Hello #WalkingShark supporters! Sorry for the delay between updates, but #WalkingSharks is officially done! Well, sort of...all of the data has been collected, analysed, and written up. Next step, publication! I'm currently preparing the paper to be submitted it to a scientific journal. This process can take quite a long time, but we are almost ready to submit it. Once submitted, the paper will go out to a few experts in the field who will give feedback and decide if the paper is ready. From there, I edit it and when they decide it is ready, we are there! If you would like to know more about the publication process or more specific information about the manuscript, feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com.
Another important update, all of my epaulettes are happy and healthy in their new homes! All sharks did extremely well with transport, and arrived safe and sound in the new locations. Many went to a shark facility in New South Wales were they now have a ton of space and are apparently loving it. For anyone local to Townsville, you can find two of our females in the first exhibit at ReefHQ! We got an update just a few days ago and they are so happy in their new home.
Finally, I need to give a massive THANK YOU to all of the #WalkingShark supporters!!!! This project would never have happened without the help from all of you wonderful people. I want to give a specific shout out to all the volunteers of this project. These people suffered through long (and odd) hours in the field as well as worked extremely hard in the lab to make sure our epaulettes were happy and healthy during this project. Hannah Epstein, Sara Keltie, Floriaan Devloo-Delva, Brooke D'Alberto, Sybille Hess, Lindsey Leathers, Teresa Valerio Hipolito, Christine Roper, Emily Higgins, Charlotte Heacock, Adriana Gonzalez Pestana, Teish Prescott, David Abercrombie and anyone else I missed. These people are absolute legends, and were so incredibly important to the success of this project.
Keep an eye out for updates regarding the publication over the coming months and thank you again for all of your support! Nay TJ, Longbottom RJ, Gervais CR, Johansen JL, Rummer JL, Steffensen JF, Hoey AS. Microhabitat use and temperature utilization in a coral reef flat specialist, Hemiscyllium ocellatum. (In prep).
Hi everyone! Those of you who know the WalkingSharks team know that we lost an incredibly important team member this year. On Rohan’s behalf, his parents would like all financial donations to go towards Walking Sharks research. If you donate before 15 January, you can receive a Walking Sharks t-shirt with ‘For Rohan’ on the back. Also, Rohan will be listed as an author on the publication that will result from this research. Just remember to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your shirt size and thank you all again for your support!
Imagine a shark… What do you see? Chances are you are thinking of something like a blacktip reef shark, set against a beautiful, vibrant coral reef. However, there are many other species of underappreciated small sharks on coral reefs. These smaller sharks may not “command” the reef like their larger kin, but in many ways they are more impressive. Of these smaller sharks, one group in particular, epaulette sharks, has developed a unique trait, achieving something that most of us do daily-- they can walk.
While most sharks have rigid fins, epaulette shark fins are flexible, which lets them walk across the rough and jagged reef and actually move from tide pool to tide pool. A fish out of water is generally seen as a bad thing and being on land is not where fish (including sharks) are generally found. However, not only do epaulette sharks walk along the reef, they can also walk out of the water! How does a shark that needs to live in the water to breath, walk on land? Epaulette sharks are capable of turning off half their brain when in air and they can do this for up to 2 hours! Incredibly, these sharks have adapted to live in extreme conditions such as areas with little or no oxygen. But what actually makes the epaulette shark walk?
Coral reef flats, home to the epaulette shark, are not only known for their extreme oxygen environment, but also for having pretty extreme temperatures. Reef flats can be 3-4°C (about 6-8°F) warmer than on the reef slope where we typically think of sharks living and this is even worse during summer. This may not sound like much, but imagine walking outside during summer and the temperature going from a warm 28°C (83°F) to spiking up to 33°C (92°F) in just a few hours! Summer temperatures can be even more extreme during low tides reaching upwards of 32°C (89°F). The oceans where these amazing epaulette sharks live are only predicted to get warmer, with coral reef flats potentially getting up to 35°C (95°F)! How exactly do they handle the heat? By walking of course!
Most sharks are like lizards in that their body temperature is based on the temperature of the environment around them. Lizards use behavioural thermoregulation. This simply means using a behaviour to control body temperature. One famous behaviour is basking, where lizards lie on a warm rock or out in the sun. By doing this, they can increase some processes like digestion. Many fish are thought to use movement in the same way, moving from place to place to occupy a preferred temperature, warming (or cooling) their body. A fish’s preferred temperature can be tested in a laboratory, but that doesn’t necessarily tell us what is going on in the real world. How exactly are sharks (and other fish) using temperature? Is there a preference they are always following? Or are they “easy-going”, tolerating whatever the ocean throws at them? This is where my research comes in.
This winter, I plan to travel to Heron Island at the most southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. Heron Island is a densely forested sand cay about 0.8 km (0.5 mile) long. This beautiful island is home to many sharks including blacktip reef sharks and lemon sharks, and is thought to have the largest population of the amazing epaulette sharks. While on Heron, I will use data loggers to monitor water temperatures on the reef flat and collect epaulette sharks. Following fieldwork, the sharks will be shipped back to my home university, James Cook University, where I will look at their preferred temperatures. Once I understand what the sharks prefer, I can compare this to the actual body temperatures of the sharks living on the reef flat. All going well, I plan to return to Heron Island during the summer months to collect information on the seasonal changes that occur. During winter, sharks may not have the same behaviours or use the same temperatures as they do during the summer when it is a lot warmer.
Understanding how these sharks use temperature is critical to understanding and ultimately conserving fish species as conditions continue to warm. If we learn what fish do to cope with changing conditions right now, we may be able to predict how fish will respond in the near future.
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