Acidic Water Impairs Shark’s Smelling Abilities

Acidic Water Impairs Shark’s Smelling Abilities

According to a new study, rising level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is making ocean water more acidic. As a result, rising acidity in the water could reduce the ability of the sharks to sense the odor of their prey. The study was published on August 11 in the journal Global Change Biology and was sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Ocean sharks are gifted with excellent smelling abilities. Some sharks, like lemon shark can smell one drop of blood in Olympic sized pool. When carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, it gets absorbed in the ocean. After dissolving, it lowers the pH of water, making it acidic.

The concentration of the acid in water impairs the odor tracking behavior of sharks, especially dogfish sharks, whose range include the Atlantic Ocean off the eastern United States.

The sharks' ability to sense the odor of their food has been tested for the first time under conditions that simulate the acidity levels. The work supports recent research from Danielle Dixson, an assistant professor in the School of Biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and other research groups. This study shows how ocean acidification impairs sensory functions and alters the behavior of aquatic organisms.

The scientists placed dogfish sharks in water pools and treated them with levels of carbon that are expected by mid-century and by 2100. The sharks were exposed to the smell of squid, a dogfish delicacy in pools with different levels of carbon dioxide. Instead of swimming towards the odor of a squishy squid meal, the sharks tended to avoid the squid smell completely -- even when squid odor was pumped through their waters. The odor was only used to make sure the sharks weren't using any other senses to detect prey.

The study clearly suggests that predator-prey interactions in nature could be influenced by elevated carbon dioxide concentrations of ocean waters.

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