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Massive Shark Nursery Found Off the West Coast of Ireland

Thousands of eggs and hundreds of catsharks were spotted during a deep sea coral reef survey 200 miles west of the island

(Marine Institute)
smithsonian.com

Anyone hanging out with the under-five crowd knows that fictional baby sharks (doo, doo, doo, doo) are having a (rather prolonged) moment. Now, real baby sharks are chomping for their space in the limelight. As Josh Gabbatiss at The Independent reports, a remote operated vehicle has discovered an enormous shark nursery off the coast of Ireland.

The toothy daycare was found about 200 miles from the west coast of Ireland, almost half a mile underwater by the Marine Institute’s SeaRover program during a survey of deep sea coral reefs in Irish waters last July.

The team found thousands of egg cases, or mermaid’s purses, strewn across the seafloor indicating that the space is used as a brooding site for sharks. While no shark pups were seen swimming around, there were hundreds of adults—mostly the fairly common blackmouth catshark and some sailfin roughsharks, a normally solitary creature currently listed as near-threatened. It’s believed the egg-laying was done by the catsharks, and the roughsharks may have been feasting on the egg buffet.

Whatever the case, the find is an exciting one for Irish marine biologists. “We are delighted to report the discovery of a rare shark nursery on a scale not previously documented in Irish waters,” David O’Sullivan, chief scientist on the SeaRover survey, says in a press release. “This discovery shows the significance of documenting sensitive marine habitats, and will give us a better understanding of the biology of these beautiful animals and their ecosystem function in Ireland’s Biologically Sensitive Area.”

O’Sullivan says that the site the sharks chose to deposit their eggs is a degraded coral reef with lots of exposed carbonate rock. It’s possible that the shark pups, after birth, move to a healthier stretch of coral reef nearby to begin learning how to hunt, an idea the survey hopes to explore in the future.

The nursery was found in one of six special offshore conservation areas designated in Irish waters, which highlights the need to protect marine habitats, both well-known and those yet to be explored. “Our key objective is to assess, protect and monitor Ireland’s rich offshore marine biodiversity so we can begin to manage our marine resources effectively,” Yvonne Leahy of the Ireland’s National Parks and Wildlife Service says in the statement. “Without knowledge of what lives in our seas we are at risk of never fully understanding and appreciating Ireland’s marine environment.”

This is not the first shark nursery to make the news in recent years. In 2016, tagged shark pups led researchers to the first known great white shark nursery discovered in the North Atlantic just off the coast of Montauk, Long Island, where the animals are believed to spend the first 20 years of their lives before heading into the open ocean.

Marine explorers have also had luck of late spotting octopus’ nurseries. Earlier this year, remote operated vehicles discovered a rare nursery colony of deep sea octopuses off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, and just last month another team discovered a massive nursery of 1,000 octopuses off the coast of California. To that we say, baby octopus (doo, doo, doo, doo).

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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