Scientists have discovered new details regarding an area in the Pacific Ocean that had long been believed to exist as a secret “white shark cafe” where the creatures head to for the winter and spring months.
As related by the San Francisco Chronicle, a team of researchers headed to this mysterious part of the Pacific Ocean between Baja California and Hawaii earlier this year in hopes of understanding why great white sharks spend several months from winter to spring in the so-called “cafe” before returning to their usual territory. Although it takes only a month or so for sharks to head to the location, scientists have had difficulty figuring out why the animals would want to swim to a region that doesn’t seem conducive to them due to the perceived lack of prey, among other factors.
Although previous researchers had thought that the shark cafe didn’t have a very shark-friendly environment, this was proven wrong by the scientists behind the new discovery. The team, which was led by researchers from Stanford University and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, found various “tiny, light-sensitive creatures” in the waters — squid and smaller fish that travel in a part of the ocean called the “mid-water” and possibly serve as prey for great whites who stay in the region during winter and spring months. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, this is an area that crosses the “edge of complete darkness” and could answer several pressing questions about the Pacific Ocean’s ecosystem and how climate change affects it.
“The story of the white shark tells you that this area is vitally important in ways we never knew about,” said co-lead researcher Salvador Jorgensen, a research scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
“They are telling us this incredible story about the mid-water, and there is this whole secret life that we need to know about.”
The “white shark cafe” moniker was coined by Stanford University marine scientist Barbara Block, who came up with the name despite not being sure at the time whether sharks went there to hunt for prey or to mate. About 14 years ago, she attached acoustic pinger tags to great white sharks, which is how she discovered that the creatures headed out to sea en masse each December, leaving the familiar, “food-rich” waters of the West Coast to a remote, seemingly barren patch of ocean estimated to be similar in size to Colorado.
Given the mysterious behavior of the great whites observed toward the end of the year, Block helped organize an expedition to the white shark cafe, as her team attached acoustic tags to 36 more sharks in the fall of 2017, and also set up satellite monitoring tags that came with locator beacons designed to detach and float to the surface. After undergoing a month-long mission from April to May on the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s Falkor research vessel, scientists were able to obtain information from close to half of the 22 tags that made it to the surface, representing what Block described as a “gold mine of data.”
Based on the information gathered, the researchers discovered that great whites who made it to the shark cafe took a rather peculiar route when hunting for food, diving about 3,000 feet below the surface and following the warm waters to catch their prey, which is believed to consist of small fish and squid. The New York Post also noted that males and females of the species were also observed to behave differently in the white shark cafe, with males repeatedly going up and down the water in a “V-shape,” and females choosing to dive deep in the daytime, while navigating shallower waters at night.
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