Researchers say submarine drone videos have provided evidence of what they believe are fish using the skin of passing sharks as back-scratchers for exfoliating dead scales and parasites. Just as oddly, the different incarnations of sharks filmed seemed just fine in assuming the role of piscine loofa foam.
A group of marine biologists from the University of Miami conducted their research around the world to find an answer to why fish seem so keen on rubbing up against one of the most feared creatures in the seas. After studying hours of videos taken by their submarine drone, the experts now believe the not infrequent instances of fish – whether a single individual or in large schools of 100 or more – braving the deadly potentials involved in actively seeking out and nuzzling the skin of sharks: It appears to be part of their hygienic process.
“While chafing has been well documented between fish and inanimate objects, such as sand or rocky substrate, this shark-chaffing phenomenon appears to be the only scenario in nature where prey actively seek out and rubs up against a predator,” said Lacey Williams, the University of Miami Rosenstiel School graduate student who co-led the study.
Despite the counterintuitive sight of fish cozying up with a predator infamous for eating literally anything it comes across, the researchers’ submarine drone filmed 47 incidents of the activity in 13 different locations around the world.
And the fishy fetish isn’t limited to a single, death wish-pursuing species. Footage captured many genus of fish playing hoochie-hoochie with eight different types of sharks. The commonality, the biologists said, was the deflaking and delousing capabilities of the gray suits sharks wear.
“Shark skin is covered in small tooth-like scales called dermal denticles, which provide a rough sandpaper surface for the chafing fish,” said research associate professor and study co-author Neil Hammerschlag. “We suspect that chafing against shark skin might play a vital role in the removal of parasites or other skin irritants, thus improving fish health and fitness.”
Their study based on the submarine drone videos of potentially suicidal fish nuzzling the enemy, “Sharks as exfoliators: widespread chafing between marine organisms suggests an unexplored ecological role,” was published late last month in Ecology, The Scientific Naturalist. It does not recommend people adopt the same technique for pedicures, or as a replacement for skin peels.
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