You Asked, We Answered: Do Sharks Suffer from Cold-Stunning?

Do extremely cold conditions impact animals migrating south for the winter? We asked our experts how sharks fare in icy waters.

Published January 30, 2018

Extreme cold seems to have contributed to the deaths of four thresher sharks that were recently found in Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts—including a shark that was frozen completely solid. Even though this is not a common occurrence, it shows sharks are indeed  affected by extreme cold temperatures.

thresher-shark

Cold-stunning, which refers to the hypothermic reaction animals experience when exposed to extremely cold water, is typically associated with turtles. The symptoms of cold-stunning in air-breathing animals are initially decreased heart rate, decreased circulation and extreme tiredness, followed later by shock and pneumonia. If there is continued exposure to the cold water, cold-stunning can result in death.

Sea turtles are most commonly cold-stunned, especially when they fail to migrate to the warmer waters of the south when they should. Being cold-blooded, they rely on outside heat to warm their bodies, which is not possible in near-freezing water. National Aquarium Animal Rescue works to rehabilitate cold-stunned turtles and help them back into the ocean.  

To learn more about cold-stunning, particularly with sea turtles, check out this video!

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