When the Discovery Channel unveiled their 2021 Shark Week lineup one title stood out among the 33 shark-related specials: Ninja Sharks 2: Mutants Rising.
While the title sounds more like a comic book (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, anyone?) than a serious nature documentary, Ninja Sharks 2 delivered on its promise of detailing four sharks that have mutated and evolved ‘superpowers’ that make them unique among the more than 500 shark species that have been classified today.
But What Exactly is a Ninja Shark?
If you’re browsing through Discovery’s Shark Week schedule and see Ninja Sharks 2, you’re sure to ask the question, “what exactly is a ninja shark?”
The title of the show is clearly not meant to be scientific. In the documentary, ‘ninja sharks’ are described as shark species that have unique ‘superpowers.’ That is to say, they’ve evolved to have special capabilities that make them unique. Specifically, the show details:
- A shark with a “bionic tail”
- Another shark with a “bullet-shaped body”
- A “mutant shark” that can hide motionless in old shipwrecks
- And a shark with a “superheated core” that hunts in frigid waters.
We’ll break down the details on each of these ‘ninja sharks’ below.
Thresher Sharks: A Whip for a Tail
Ninja Sharks 2 begins in the waters off New York’s Long Island, where thresher sharks congregate for two weeks during summers before descending back into the depths of the ocean.
What makes thresher sharks so interesting is that their “bionic tail” (the show’s words, not ours!) is the same length as their body. Thresher sharks can use this tail like a sword or even a whip, flinging it at 50 miles per hour and knocking fish in groups unconscious.
In Ninja Sharks 2, scientists attempt to tag a thresher shark with a camera to determine why they congregate off Long Island for just a couple of weeks during the summer. The conclusion: large “bait balls” of millions of fish congregate off nearby reefs during this time. Threshers converge on the area as their tails are tremendously effective at hunting these large schools of fish.
The Shortfin Mako Shark: A Bullet-Shaped Body
The show also focuses on mako sharks that are hunting near Long Island as well. What makes shortfin makos “ninja sharks?” For one they’re the fastest sharks on the planet.
Shortfin makos have a top recorded speed of 46 miles per hour. Put another way, they can burst through the water at 5 to 8 body lengths per second. Combine this speed with the mako shark’s size (up to 12 feet in length), and you can see why these sharks are such effective predators.
Sand Tiger Shark: A Shark that Can Hunt Motionless
Most sharks have to constantly be on the move for a simple reason, water moving through their gills is what allows sharks to breathe. In other words, for species like the great white shark, keep moving or perish!
Yet, the sand tiger shark has an adaptation that allows it to hunt differently than most sharks. Ninja Sharks describes the sand tiger’s ‘superpower’ as being able to gulp air at the surface, which allows the sharks to maintain buoyancy and float motionlessly. While other sharks can breathe without swimming (thanks to a technique known as buccal pumping), only the sand tiger shark is known to gulp air from the surface in this fashion.
On Ninja Sharks 2, scientists explored sand tiger sharks using this ability to “hover” in shipwrecks off the coast of North Carolina. Ships sinking off the Carolinas in World War 1 & 2 have created a long stretch of reefs clustered around sunken ships known as ‘The Graveyard of the Atlantic.’
The tight spaces of these ships aren’t ideal hunting grounds for most sharks which have a hard time navigating shipwrecks. However, since the sand tiger shark can “hover” motionlessly, they’ve become top predators in shipwrecks by ambushing fish. In addition, sand tiger sharks will often congregate in large groups. Once they’ve congregated smaller schools of fish will encircle them.
With groups of sand tiger sharks hovering in the middle of these large schools of fish, they effectively become “cloaked.” As larger fish try picking off the schools of fish, sand tiger sharks leap out from their cover and are rewarded with a meal.
Salmon Shark: A Predator in Frigid Waters
The last shark featured on Ninja Sharks 2 was the salmon shark. Salmon sharks live in the Northern Pacific, stretching from Japan over to Alaska. As their name implies, their favored prey is salmon and other large fish.
What is their ‘ninja skill’ that landed them on the show? Salmon sharks have what’s effectively a ‘superheated core’ that allows their body to stay at 60 degrees even while surrounding water is just a couple of degrees above freezing. This warmer body temperature gives the salmon shark faster movement while they’re hunting.
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