Whale Sharks Flock to Azores Islands and Warmer Waters
Whale sharks are flocking to waters offshore of the volcanic Azores Islands as sea surface temperatures rise.
Climate change seems to be the main reason the sharks are moving to waters with more ideal temperatures. Recently, fishermen have begun spotting these large whale sharks around the Azores Islands, a string of nine volcanic isles in the central North Atlantic west of Portugal.
Pedro Afonso of the University of the Azores, along with his colleagues, wrote that the "occurrence of the whale shark in the wider Azores region increased drastically in 2008. Prior to this, and for a full decade, these large animals had only been sighted sporadically."
According to Nature World News, "To better understand what is drawing whale sharks to the area, researchers analyzed a 16-year (1998-2013) observr data set from tuna fishermen around the region - it is known that the sharks appear during the summer at the same time as tuna schools. They also used models to investigate the movement of the sharks in relation to factors such as food, sea surface temperature and seafloor features."
2008 was a very warm year, and since then, whale sharks have been spotted in the Azores regularly, according to Live Science.
While the island waters tend to be cooler and lie on the edge of the whale shark ocean temperature range, climate change has warmed their temperatures to most ideal conditions, which now has made the area whale shark central.
The rise in temperature in the Azores correlated with higher amounts of chlorophyll-a, a type of whale shark food.
"Our findings underline the potential for an increase of the wider Azores region's importance as an oceanic habitat for the whale shark in the North Atlantic in years of exceptionally high water temperature, and for a concomitant shift in the whale shark distribution within the Atlantic Ocean, as predicted by global modeling studies," Afonso and his team concluded."
The research on whale sharks and Azores was published in the journal PLOS ONE.