Flying sharks may populate SyFy's "Sharknado" universe, but in real life, great whites are elegantly equipped to handle hurricanes.

In Hurricanes Like Joaquin, Shark Behavior Isn’t Exactly ‘Sharknado’ Worthy

South Carolina is experiencing “historic” flooding as a consequence of Hurricane Joaquin, yet for the sharks swimming just off the coast, adverse weather is hardly anything to be bothered with.

Joaquin is driving floods in South Carolina unlike anything in recent memory, as CNN reports, leaving over 30,000 residents in the Dorchester and Charleston areas without power. Multiple agencies are working to save stranded residents from their homes and cars, and officials are struggling to keep track of efforts. Over 140 water rescues were performed in Dorchester alone overnight.

In any one of SyFy’s popular Sharknado series, a storm like Joaquin would be accompanied by flying schools of deadly predators. The franchise released its third installment, Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, this summer, featuring cameo appearances from a host of celebrities. When it comes to real life, however, it turns out that sharks are uniquely equipped to handle weather events like Joaquin. While a hurricane may tear down that which mankind has built, to a shark it represents hardly anything to be concerned by.

In 2013, the non-profit group Ocearch wrote about the behavior of sharks during severe storms, pointing out that it is nothing short of “brilliant.” They cited a study conducted roughly a decade prior by researchers at Mote Marine Laboratory, who examined a nursery full of young blacktip sharks located in Terra Ceia Bay. In 2001, a severe tropical storm moved through the region, and researchers were able to document the sharks’ movements using the same type of radio tags employed by Ocearch. The nursery was located in shallow water, and as such was clearly affected by the storm. The sharks’ behavior revealed to researchers that the animals are deeply in tune with their environment, giving them the ability to all but shrug off severe weather events.

As the research team watched, all of the sharks fled the nursery area for deeper water ahead of the oncoming storm. This represented a significant action for several reasons; first, none of those juvenile sharks had ever ventured beyond the confines of the bay before. Second, they fled several hours before the storm arrived, showing that they were likely reacting to a change in barometric pressure. After the storm had passed, all of the sharks returned to the nursery, further indicating to researchers that their actions were directly tied to the weather.

Great white sharks are, of course, a much different species than young blacktips. Coastal sharks who nonetheless venture into deep waters, great whites are able to glide below depths which are affected by hurricanes like Joaquin. White sharks can easily move offshore and go deep in an effort to avoid the storms, and when Hurricane Sandy ravaged the east coast in 2012, Ocearch saw this very behavior from a now-famous great white shark named Mary Lee. The hurricane’s passage coincided with a rare six-day-long gap in signals from Mary Lee’s satellite tag, though researchers are unsure whether that was due to her behavior, or interference with the signal. Nonetheless, the shark still moved into an area just west of Sandy’s path, which has since represented a home territory for her.

As Hurricane Joaquin lays into Bermuda on Sunday afternoon, Mary Lee has ensconced herself off the Outer Banks of North Carolina, remaining near the surface while her fellow white shark Katharine has gone deep. Despite catastrophic floods in nearby South Carolina, both white sharks appear exquisitely able to handle anything Hurricane Joaquin can throw at them.

[Photo via Ryan Pierse / Getty Images]

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