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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The health spa visited by SHARKS: Killers of deep go to cleaning stations to have dead skin nibbled off by tiny fish (just like us)


Pampering: A shark circles a swims round a cleaning station so that the tiny fish can eat dead skin and clean it

Sharks are visiting underwater ‘spas’ where they are cleaned off to get rid of unwanted parasites.

Researchers have observed Thresher sharks swimming into areas of water populated by clean fish which eat the unpleasant things attached to their bodies.

As the fearsome predator calmly swims around, they also remove dead skin and nasty creatures which have become attached to them.

It mirrors the latest pedicure treatment for us in which tiny garra rufa fish nibble away at hard skin on the soles of our feet.

Thanks: This shark was filmed at a cleaning station in Malapascua Island in the Philippines

Experts have seen the shark deliberately linger in these areas and make return trips to ensure they are spick and span.

The research is the first time such behaviour has been observed in sharks and shows a different side to the creature many would expect.

It has been likened to the creatures visiting a spa to get clean, or a car wash of sorts deep under the water’s surface.

The study was carried out in the Philippines where a team from Bangor University in Wales monitored undersea mountains - known as seamounts - for shark activity.

Lead researcher Simon Oliver said that there was no doubt the sharks were going there for a good scrub.

He said they ‘systematically’ circle for around 45 minutes at speeds lower than one meter per second, half of what they usually move at.

The fish then begin ‘foraging’ on the shark's body, paying the most attention to their parasite-rich fins and pelvis.

‘They (the sharks) pose, lowering their tails to make themselves more attractive to the cleaners,’ Mr Oliver told BBC News.

‘It's like us going to our local GP if we had a head full of lice.
‘If we weren't able to get them treated, they could cause infections and other complications.’

He added: ‘They visit the site very regularly. A huge dive tourism site has evolved around them.’
Mr Oliver, who is a PhD researcher with Bangor’s School of Ocean Sciences, said the reefs were vital for the shark’s health.

‘Our findings underscore the importance of protecting areas like seamounts which play an important part in (the sharks') life strategy to maintain health and hygiene,’ he said.

Little nibblers: A woman's feet are cleaned by garra rufa fish at the Aqua Sheko spa in London

Thresher sharks are named after their long tail which is used to stun prey and can grow to 20ft long.

They are found in North America, the North Pacific and Asia and eat fish such as tuna or mackerel.

They do not pose a threat to humans but they are at risk of overfishing in some areas by hunters.

Dynamite fishing has already damaged some of the area where the research was carried out.

Dr John Turner, a Bangor University marine biologist who also took part in the research, said: ‘The work uniquely describes why some oceanic sharks come into coastal waters to perform an important life function which is easily disturbed by man.’

source: dailymail


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