Photo Source: Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance
It’s no surprise that life has given us a lot of lemons lately! Instead of dwelling on the negative, we’ll dive in to learn about lemon...SHARKS! The lemon shark, Negaprion brevirostris, is one of the most researched sharks on the planet. With their ability to thrive in a human-care setting, they’ve provided marine biologists with a plethora of information! Lemon sharks are an important part of the ocean’s functionality and marine ecosystems’ health. For more information on why sharks are important, catch a wave with Respect the Fin’s recent blog post, here!
Lemon Sharks 101
Unsurprisingly, lemon sharks were named after their beautiful coloring. They present a vibrant yellow to brown and gray color along with their bodies. They are a larger shark, reaching a maximum length of 10 feet! The color of the lemon shark has created much interest in marine biologists that study them. Their color provides camouflage and helps them thrive in their environment.
Generally, they live in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Lemon sharks occupy a few different habitats including mangrove forests, coral reefs, and partial freshwater areas such as bays. They are usually found along the coast and continental shelves, but travel to pelagic (open) waters or sometimes freshwater during migrations. When they exist along continental shelves or closer to coastal, in-shore areas, their coloring aides in their camouflage to remain inconspicuous and hidden during the day. They have been known to congregate in groups in bays at night, too.
Eyes On the Prize
The lemon shark’s diet consists of a wide variety of prey. Their unique colors and shading give them excellent camouflage to lie and wait for prey and then attack and grab prey with their speed. Additionally, they are equipped with a special retina in their eye that allows for specialized vision. They accomplish this specialized vision with a horizontal band in the retina that creates clear, crisp visual fields. This enables better vision while hunting and swimming (Oceana). They will hunt and feed on crustaceans, bony fish, stingrays, smaller sharks, and seabirds.
Not Always Sour, Sometimes Sweet
Photo Source: National Geographic
Although they are highly adapted and skilled predators, lemon sharks coexist peacefully and participate in symbiotic relationships in the ocean. If you read a previous blogpost about symbiotic relationships, you know how important they are in such a diverse habitat such as the ocean! Symbiotic relationships involve two species that interact in which at least one of those species benefits from the other. Read more about symbiotic relationships in our blog post here.
The lemon shark is a great example of a shark involved in a symbiotic relationship. They are often seen with one if not several fish surrounding their bodies. This is a mutualistic relationship where the lemon shark benefits from “cleaner” fish such as remora and those smaller fish benefit from protection from predators in the form of the lemon shark bodyguard. Remora will cling to the side of various sharks and eat dead skin cells, help prevent disease, and even clean the teeth of some sharks. Remora get protection as well as a free ride to wherever the shark is traveling. This helps them conserve energy.
Lemon sharks are considered social. They will travel and stick within smaller groups or aggregations as seen in the photo above. These groups are called a “shiver,” and have been observed many times. Marine biologists have studied and seen that these sharks prefer to socialize and form specific groups both in human-care settings as well as wild settings. Read more about these social networks lemon sharks form in a National Geographic blog here.
These sharks are known to be cannibalistic. Although they are social, they are also opportunistic predators. Their social groups depend on the lemon sharks’ size. They will often form groups of similar sizes and ages to create social dynamics and protection from larger sharks. In places like Bimini, their predatory behavior has been studied and reveals agility, intelligence, and homing skills. Adult lemon sharks will descend on mangrove areas at high tide and hunt some of the juvenile, smaller lemon sharks that take refuge in those areas. Watch more of this process and action in a video done by National Geographic here.
Lemon Shark Conservation
Photo Source: Shark Sider
Similar to many sharks that we are passionate about, the lemon shark is near threatened. Their population is at risk due to hunting and suffering the fate of commercial bycatch. Bycatch is when a marine animal gets caught in the fishing net as a non-targeted species. However, they are also specifically hunted and fished. They are hunted for their fins to make shark fin soup, their skin to make leather and their meat for human consumption. As with most conservation and preservation of marine species, you can help lemon sharks by spreading awareness, eating seafood sustainably, and reducing your carbon footprint. I look forward to 2021 and hope for more efforts in shark conservation in the United States and around the world. Thanks for reading, and when life gives you lemons, save lemon sharks!
Written By: Bailey Higa