Amid 'Grim Global Outlook,' This Shark Species Thrives

Juvenile bull shark population off Alabama grew fivefold in past 20 years as water temps warmed
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 18, 2024 2:25 PM CDT
These Sharks Don't Seem to Mind Global Warming
This stock photo shows bull sharks swimming together.   (Getty Images/FionaAyerst)

The frog hasn't noticed it's slowly boiling to death, and neither do bull sharks off the coast of Alabama, apparently. Or, if they do, they're going out with a bang, multiplying at a rate that has brought the juvenile population's numbers up fivefold over the past two decades, even as the seawater they're swimming in keeps getting warmer, reports ABC News. For their new research published in the journal Scientific Reports, scientists looked at data collected from 440 young bull sharks captured in Mobile Bay from 2003 to 2020 for surveys by the state's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The number of sharks caught in the estuary per hour, then released, spiked by a factor of five from the beginning of the survey period to the end 17 years later. During that same time span, researchers found the mean sea-surface temperature had risen from 72.1 degrees Fahrenheit in 2001, to 73.4 degrees in 2020. This phenomenon sets the vulnerable bull shark population apart from many of its shark cousins, many of which the researchers note face a "grim global outlook ... in the face of climate change and coastal urbanization."

Lindsay Mullins, the study's lead author, calls the research "really exciting," and a somewhat surprising find. "It's sort of contrary to that narrative we normally think, which is that for many species, warming water is a detriment," she tells the Guardian. Although bull sharks that hover near coastlines are considered to be among the most dangerous sharks out there, and though the research warns that larger shark numbers could bring about more interactions between sharks and humans, Mullins says families shouldn't be petrified of going to beaches along Mobile Bay due to the latest research. "This increase in abundance is not going to lead to an increase in shark bites," she tells ABC. (More discoveries stories.)

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