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Jaws could be soon be stalking UK waters – as climate change sends great white sharks our way.
British waters are too chilly for the apex predators but as currents and temperatures change, it may force them to change where they live and hunt.
Marine biologist Ryan Johnson says: “I know many shark nuts in the UK are desperately waiting for that day a white shark is detected.
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“It is really close to their range. The Mediterranean Sea has been a great white hotspot so it would only take a small change in the distribution and water conditions for them to extend that range up.
“On the east coast of America, the great whites have been extending up further and further north, so maybe something like that can happen in the UK as well.”
Ryan is one of the experts appearing on National Geographic’s SharkFest season from Sunday (July 17).
One series of programmes examines why there’s been a worldwide increase in shark attacks. But for Ryan the answer is simple – it’s all down to humans.
“If you look at the science, the rise really closely correlates with the rise in human population,” he says. “And there’s also some link, particularly in the developed world, to more recreational time for people to spend in the water. You find that also highly correlates with the increase in shark attacks.”
Ryan’s work with Kenyan shark scientist Gibbs Kuguru is documented on the show Camo Sharks.
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And it’s revealed the two made an incredible discovery – great whites may have the ability to change colour.
The pair conducted experiments using a board that monitored the beasts’ hue at different times of day. And the results suggested they can switch between dark and light grey in a matter of hours, perhaps as a type of camouflage to sneak up on prey.
Ryan adds: “A lot of people who love sharks are so fascinated with great white’s power, size and speed. You forget there can be really subtle adaptations that are just as important to their success.
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“Something like colour change can be just as important even though these things are big awesome predators.” There is also a chance they can get a tan, with Ryan adding: “We did come across a scientific paper that proved hammerhead sharks could sunbathe and were getting tans. Tanning is potentially part of their repertoire.”
In Ryan’s native South Africa, a pair of orcas – also known as killer whales – have made headlines for targeting great white sharks. The pair, known as Port and Starboard by scientists, are thought to have slaughtered at least eight since 2018, pulling out their livers which are rich in oils.
Now Ryan reveals they may have added to their numbers. He says: “It has been the same two for the last four years but a month ago here we saw one of those orcas with three other orcas.
“They did kill a shark and it was the other three orcas that actually killed the shark. So we’re a little bit worried those two have taught some of the other local orcas this behaviour and it’s something we’re watching very closely.”
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Despite their menacing reputations, Ryan believes the human fascination with sharks is all down to their personality.
The marine biologist says: “They are one of the few real iconic things that people would think of as a genuine monster that patrols the Earth today.
“They’re not cute and cuddly – they’re cold and sleek and hard and rough.
“But one thing you can’t deny about sharks is they have a hell of a charisma.”
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