Sharks could be used to predict storms following research by a marine biology student. Lauren Smith, 24, is close to completing her PhD studies into the pressure-sensing abilities of sharks. If her studies prove the theory, scientists in future could monitor the behaviour of sharks to anticipate severe weather fronts.
Research was partly carried out in an altitude chamber at the National Hyperbaric Centre in Aberdeen.
Miss Smith had previously investigated the behaviour of lemon sharks in the Bahamas. She then used their near relations, the lesser spotted dogfish, for further research at Aberdeen University's altitude chamber at the National Hyperbaric Centre.
It is thought her work is the first of its kind to attempt to test the pressure theory. It was prompted by an earlier shark habitat study in Florida, which coincided with the arrival of Hurricane Gabrielle in 2001, when observations suggested that juvenile blacktip sharks moved into deeper water in association with the approaching storm.
The chamber's changes in pressure mimic the pressure changes experienced in and around the ocean, caused by weather fronts, and the protocol was approved by the Home Office. It has been established that a shark senses pressure using hair cells in its balance system.
Work at the Bimini Shark Lab enabled her to observe shark behaviour by placing data-logging tags to record pressure and temperature on juvenile lemon sharks, while also tracking them using acoustic tags and GPS technology.
In Aberdeen, she was able to study the effects of tidal and temperature changes on dogfish, none of which were harmed, in the aquarium.
She also tested the pressure theory by recreating weather conditions at the chamber at the National Hyperbaric Centre