Great white sharks — one of the ocean’s most fearsome apex predators — thrive with toxic levels of poisons flowing in their veins, according to a new study by OCEARCH.
Researchers recently came to that conclusion after taking blood samples from 40 white sharks off South Africa, according to an April 3 report on OCEARCH.org.
The samples revealed “alarmingly high levels of poisonous heavy metals, like arsenic and mercury, in sharks’ blood,” says the report.
“Despite levels of heavy metals that would be toxic to most other species, white sharks seem to show no ill effects,” says OCEARCH, a nonprofit devoted to collecting “previously unattainable” ocean data.
The fact that white sharks flourish with poison in their veins is one of the “tricks” the species has used to survive millions of years, OCEARCH says. “White sharks are incredibly tolerant to what would essentially be poison to other species,” said the report.
In an interview with The South African, Liza Merly of the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science said the research could benefit humans, when researchers figure out the “protective mechanism” in sharks that protects them from the toxins.
However, for now the report warns that humans should worry about how white sharks are being poisoned to such extremes.
“Basically, if the sharks have high levels of toxins in their tissues, it is likely that species they eat below them will also have toxins, including fishes that humans eat,” said study co-author Neil Hammerschlag in a release from OCEARCH.
What the study doesn’t show is whether toxins in white sharks are going up, says OCEARCH. That’s because this is “the first published account of high heavy metal concentrations in white shark blood,” said researchers.
“Researchers can monitor the heavy metal levels and compare them back to this study to see if they are increasing or decreasing,” said the report. “This study also opens up new opportunities to research the mechanisms that might be helping these apex predators survive.”