Chemical shark repellent: Myth or fact? The effect of a shark necromone on shark feeding behavior
Since 1942, the search for an effective chemical shark repellent has been ongoing research concern in the United States. A long-standing anecdote that sharks avoid areas containing decomposing shark tissue has initiated new interest in identifying trace chemical alarm signals produced during decomposition (necromones). A commercially-sourced shark necromone produced from putrefied shark tissue was evaluated over a five-year period in South Bimini, Bahamas. Competitively-feeding populations of Caribbean reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezi) and blacknose sharks (Carcharhinus acronotus) were exposed to necromones using pressurized aerosol canisters at the surface. Shark density estimations were made at the initial, 1 min and 5 min intervals after preliminary exposure along with continuous exposure of feeding stimulus. In both species, an unambiguous halt in feeding behavior was observed within 1 min after exposure of the necromone. For aerosol delivery, a 150 mL dose of the necromone from a single aerosol canister is able to halt all feeding activity in a combined population of C. perezi and C. acronotus. Shark necromones induced a spectacular alarm response in interacting sharks resulting in a temporary evacuation of an area containing feeding stimuli. Additionally, sharks were not deterred by alternative treatment presentations of 10 percent weight percent (w/w) aqueous urea, 10 percent w/w oleic acid in ethanol, or water buffered to pH 8.5. Habituation to the necromone was not observed for repeated tests at the same location. In all experiments, the presence of a shark necromone did not produce a similar aversion response for teleosts as observed in C. perezi or C. acronotus; however, anecdotal observations demonstrate that teleosts increased their feeding rate in the presence of the necromone. Experimental controls using denatured ethanol or water confirmed that feeding sharks were not deterred by bubbles, sound, or the solvents used to extract the necromones. Comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography coupled to time-of-flight mass spectrometry indicates that the necromone is a complex solution rich in amino acids and putrefaction products. Experiments demonstrate that the key chemical component responsible for the alarm response is within these amino acids and/or putrefaction products, but further experimentation is needed to more accurately identify the active ingredient. Shark necromones hold particular promise for use in shark bycatch reduction and conservation. The existence of a putative chemical shark repellent has been confirmed.