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Shark Die-Off in San Francisco Bay Stumps Scientists

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By    |   Thursday, 05 October 2017 10:38 AM

A shark die-off in San Francisco Bay has mystified scientists who are calling for funding from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to find out why. So far, the request has been beached.

NBC Chicago reported at least 2,000 leopard sharks have died this year alone in the San Francisco Bay area. While the mysterious deaths have been happening periodically since the 1960s, research scientist Dr. Mark Okihiro says he has been seeing many more species dying off this year.

According to Okihiro’s estimates, about 100 halibut, 50 smooth-hound sharks, hundreds of striped bass and at least 500 batrays also died between February and July this year. Okihiro said he believed they were being affected by whatever has been killing the leopard sharks.

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The Mercury News reported on the die-off in May when Okihiro said the deaths were likely related to a fungus that caused brain infection in the sharks.

He explained at the time that the fungus was most probably entering their bodies through their noses, but with so many species of fungus Okihiro said it was difficult to determine which one was causing the problem.

Another possible cause, according to Bay Nature, was the tidal gates that keep the sharks in. The Pelagic Shark Research Foundation’s executive director, Sean Van Sommeran, told the organization in early May that when tidal gates were closed in anticipation of rain, they exposed the sea life trapped by the gate into stagnant water with less than ideal pH levels.

Those animals that survive then have a weaker immune system and are exposed to infection when the backwash of urban and suburban runoff fills in, Van Sommeran said.

After months of research, Okihiro was confident that the culprit is in fact a single-celled parasite known as Miamiensis avidus which slowly eats away at the sharks’ brains.

Dr. Andrew Nosal, a marine biologist and expert on leopard sharks told NBC Chicago that he fears there might be many more shark deaths than the bodies that have washed up this year. What’s more, the parasite could be affecting other sea life that scientists don’t know about yet.

Nosal explained that removing leopard sharks from the ecosystem could have a knock-on effect that could eventually start affecting other ecosystems along the West Coast.

He told NBC Chicago that resources needed to be set aside to properly determine what’s killing the sharks, how and how many other animals were affected.

“If we don't find out, then there's nothing we can do about it,” he said

When asked about plans for additional resources to fund research, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s deputy director of administration, Gabe Tiffany, told NBC Chicago that they would be focusing their funding on “higher-risk wildlife.”

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A shark die-off in San Francisco Bay has mystified scientists who are calling for funding from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to find out why. So far, the request has been beached.
shark, die-off, san francisco bay, stumps, scientists
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2017-38-05
Thursday, 05 October 2017 10:38 AM
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