All About Sharks
It Ain't Easy Being A Shark Pup
The lives of shark pups can be pretty rough. Some pups even cannibalize one another in the womb. Talk about a troubled childhood!
As with all male cartilaginous fish (sharks, rays, and skates) these claspers are used to channel semen into females during mating. Interestingly enough, only one clasper is used at a time. Once the male has made his intentions known, he will "dock" beside the female and flex his adjacent clasper across the mid-line of his body to insert into her genital opening, or cloaca. Once inserted, the clasper uses spurs to lock it into place until mating is complete. (Ouch!)
Male sharks often let the females know they are interested in mating by biting them in various places. These "love nips" or pre-copulatory bites are meant to show interest and facilitate female cooperation, and subsequent copulatory bites to grip the pectoral fins are used to hold the female shark in place for mating. It's typically easy to spot the female sharks that have recently mated. They will have noticeable bite marks and raw skin. It's like the shark equivalent of hickies...with sharp teeth and likely some bloodshed.
Because, who needs an aggressive biting male with spurred penises around when you can do it yourself? Asexual reproduction, also known as parthenogenesis, is rare but not impossible. Parthenogenesis is a type of asexual reproduction in which the offspring develops from unfertilized eggs. Scientists have confirmed parthenogenesis in the bonnethead shark, blacktip shark, and zebra shark, and reported other species as well. While parthenogenesis may occur in the wild, it has only been confirmed in captivity. It is likely that this is used as a last-resort tactic for female sharks that are unable to find a mate.
As you may have gathered, mating is not exactly the most pleasant experience for the female shark. For that reason, these females use the shallow waters as a defense mechanism to fend off the male sharks. By keeping their underbelly closer to the sea floor in these shallow waters, it is more difficult for a male shark to flip over the female to reach her cloaca for mating.
Female sharks have developed a couple of defenses to the male shark roughness. To protect against the pre-copulatory biting, females have developed rougher and thicker skin. Additionally, most species of female sharks have evolved to be larger than their male counterparts.
Did You Know?
Some Sharks Give Birth In Nurseries
A shark pup's biggest problem is that it looks like a tasty tidbit. According to shark biologist Paul Clerkin, "When they are small they have to stay off other predator's menus (including bigger sharks!)"
One strategy that young sharks use is to stay together and remain close to where they were born. There are protected bays and estuaries in many places where females go to pup called shark nurseries.
"Nurseries are geographically discrete areas where mother sharks go to give birth. These are often safe areas with fewer predators and a better food source for the young sharks. Once born, young sharks will stay in these areas for weeks up to years."
Shark moms don't tend to stick around. "[The pups] receive no protection from their mothers and have to feed and fend for themselves," Paul told us. Which is probably a good thing - some shark moms eat their own babies.
Did You Know?
Some Sharks Cannibalize Each Other Inside the Womb
Is it true? Are adorable baby sharks really cannibals? We asked shark biologist Paul Clerkin to make sure we heard this right.
"Yes! Some species of sharks eat each other inside the womb," Paul told us. "The largest pup eats all the other eggs then continues to eat eggs that enter the womb until it is ready for birth."
"Although this may seem alien and even horrific to us, it is actually nature's way to give these pups the nutrients required to grow quite large before birth. The mother is really putting all her eggs in one basket, but these large pups will have a great advantage in the outside world thanks to this bizarre reproductive mode."
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