Baby Jaguar Sharks Like To Hang Out in Corals

Figure 2 from Etnoyer and Warrenchuk (2007). Callogorgia americana delta colonies with catshark egg cases attached. Depth 533 m.
ROV suction hose on the left is 15.25 cm (6 in) in diameter.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchI am excited that our first post on new research for 2008 covers work by DSN’s own Peter Etnoyer. 2008 also represents the International Year of the Reef making this report on the importance of deep-water corals as a shark nursery is timely. Although, there is a plethora of research documenting the vital role shallow-water corals play in providing substrate and shelter for fish (they might even teach this in elementary school now), little is know about the function of deep-water corals. Of course, this is part of a larger question. What function do deep-water corals play in promoting deep-sea biodiversity?

One potential piece of evidence that would provide a very clear indication of the relationship deep-sea fish and coral would be the discovery of an egg case attached to a coral. Simple, neat, and elegant proof that corals provide nursery habitat. As Peter mentions in the article, observations like this are rare (~5) and usually represent an observation of single egg case.

Scyliorhinus_retifer.jpgPeter and Jon Warrenchuk describe results from a 2003 expedition to 3 sites in the Gulf of Mexico between 340 and 538m. During this work over 296 egg cases attached to 117 gorgonian corals were discovered! The eggcases are consistent with those laid by Scyliorhinus retifer, the chain catshark (picture right, image from The chain catshark is charismatic species with elegant patterned that feeds on small crustaceans, cephalopods (that’s not right), fish. Peter and Jon suggest that the rough texture on Callogorgia corals may enhance egg case adhesion. A benefit of placing an eggcase on coral, besides shelter, would be to increase water circulation around the eggcase. Water near the sediment interface moves slowly and is typically has less oxygen because of respiration by organisms living in and on the mud. This region near the sediment is called the benthic boundary layer (BBL). By placing eggcases on corals that rise out of the BBL more oxygen can reach the developing young.

Etnoyer, P. & Warrenchuk, J. (2007) A catshark nursery in a deep gorgonian filed in the Mississippi Canyon, Gulf of Mexico. Bulletin of Marine Science. 81:553-559.

Dr. M (1714 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.

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One comment on “Baby Jaguar Sharks Like To Hang Out in Corals
  1. Cool! The only time I’ve seen a chain catshark was years ago at the Mystic Aquarium in CT, but it was certainly a stunning animal. I always loved that Richard Ellis illustration of it, too.

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