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Eerie Photos Show Sharks Appearing To Sleep Atop Shipwrecks Off North Carolina

A team of scientists exploring the waters off North Carolina have seen repeated instances of large sharks appearing to sleep around historic World War II shipwrecks.

The eerie sight was first recorded when the NOAA-supported team visited the massive 500-foot-long wreck of the EM Clark, which was sunk to the sea floor in 1942 by torpedoes from a German submarine.

Photos shared on Facebook by NOAA show groups of sand tiger sharks in stasis around the remarkably intact tanker.

Appearance was deceiving, according to Dr. J. Christopher Taylor of the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, Marine Spatial Ecology Division.

“Sand tiger sharks are somewhat unusual for sharks in that they can hover or appear to be resting,” he told McClatchy News.

Sand tiger sharks were seen crowded around the wreck of the EM Clark off North Carolina, which was sunk by German U-boat torpedoes in 1942.

“It is likely that they use the wrecks for food and as stopping places along their migration along the Atlantic coast. … Their presence represents a vibrant and diverse community of fish supported by these living wrecks.

The footage was recorded during the Valor in the Atlantic mission expedition, which used ‘advanced technology’ to explore wreckage around the NOAA Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, 16 miles off the Carolina coast North.

The expedition, carried out in partnership with the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration, also discovered that hundreds of invasive lionfish gravitate towards the same wrecks.

Sand tiger sharks grow to around 10.4ft, and researchers have long known they gravitate around wrecks to feed on reef fish, including trevally and barracuda.

However, it has recently been noted that sharks actually prefer wrecks to natural reefs, according to Dr. Avery Byrd Paxton, a marine biology researcher at the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

This is likely due to the “height and shape” of the wrecks, she said.

“The wrecks tend to be higher than the rocky reefs in the area. Higher reefs like those formed from shipwrecks generally support more large predators,” Paxton told McClatchy News.

“We see this pattern primarily for fast-moving predators, such as sharks, trevally and barracuda, which live and hunt in the water column around higher wrecks and man-made habitats. Shipwrecks and other man-made habitats can play an important ecological role…by supporting large water column predators.

As to whether sharks actually sleep, a researcher paper published in March in Australia reports that some species (such as checkerboard sharks) “frequently entered a state of rest to conserve energy,” LiveScience reported.

During these periods, they “adopted a flat, rigid body posture” but did not always close their eyes, the researchers said.

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