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Friday, February 14, 2014

Strange Sharks Of Sagami

Sagami Bay sits off 40 km east of Tokyo, Japan within site of Mount Fuji. The area is a convenient location for deep-sea shark research.

Because of its depths and very high biodiversity, it is a major study site of marine biologists from the University of Tokyo and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology.

Using submersibles and specialty cameras, researchers are capable of doing research up to 3000 feet below the surface of the ocean. In the deep gorges of the Pacific Ocean, scientists like Dr. Yoshihiro Fujiwara make their careers studying life in the abyss.

The multi-million-dollar submersibles can keep researchers alive in some of the most inhospitable and least visited places on the planet. As the pods descend into the darkness, the human visitors to the ocean depths become eyewitnesses to some of the strangest apex predators in the oceans.

Dr. Sho Tanaka is Japan’s most knowledgeable shark expert. Together with Dr. Fujiwara and colleagues from around the world, he conducts research where frozen remains of deceased sperm whales are dropped to the bottom of the ocean as bait. As the bait attracts a variety of deep-sea marine life, scientists are able to see what sharks and other marine life do in the darkness.

At the ocean bottom, the whale carcasses are tethered to a concrete block that keeps them anchored in place. The bait is observed by the researchers who sit in the submarine pods that take 30 minutes to dive down to the twilight zone.

As the whale meat sits at the bottom of the ocean among a white layer of other dead marine life, its rotting flesh presents is a feast for sharks.

With over half of the world’s shark species living in deep sea waters, scientists are just beginning to understand these creatures that can withstand high pressures and low water temperatures below the 1000-foot level. The scientists readily admit that the deeper they dive, the stranger the sharks appear.

Over the last generation, over 40 different deep-sea sharks have been found in the waters around Japan where sea gorges are relatively close to the shoreline. In addition to the manned pods that enable the scientists to observe shark behavior first-hand, they also drop video cameras on the sea floor to observe transmissions broadcast year-round.

The scientists have relished with the plethora of images that have transmitted for the first time marine life so close to shore and so different and diverse from what they previously knew. Hundreds of these deep-sea sharks have been studied from 20-foot blunt nose six-gill sharks to rough skin dogfish and the frilled shark.

The six-gill sharks are bigger and more powerful than the Great White Sharks that are more renowned at the surface level. Like the six-gill, Pacific sleeper sharks can grow to over 20 feet in length and rule the depths. The goblin shark, first discovered in the late 19th century when it came to the surface, is being studied in its natural environment.

And then there is the Megamouth, first named by Leighton Taylor and found in 1976, this shark is the most elusive shark in the ocean where only 50 have been found.

As the deep-sea technology develops and continues to enable scientists to observe and study more about the First Frontier, new information will enthrall those interested in marine life and sharks.

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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