While some may shy away from Israel for political reasons, scientists are learning how the Hadera power plant on the Mediterranean coast has the opposite effect on some of the sea’s most intimidating creatures – sharks.
It seems that Sandbar and Dusky Sharks don’t mind what goes on above the surface, because the plant pumps clean hot water back into the Med making it ten degrees warmer than the rest of the sea, which they don’t mind at all.
Expert say the warm water stimulates sharks’ metabolisms, improves their breathing cycles and even facilitates their pregnancies, prompting scientists to look more closely at the ‘Hadera Effect’ and collect data.
Aviad Scheinin, manager of the top predator project at the Morris Kahn Marine Research Station, established by the University of Haifa, said hundreds of sharks now head there every winter, which makes it “a legitimate and rare phenomenon”.
He said: “The paradox we see here is that this is not a natural environment … and you cannot see it anywhere else in the vicinity. This phenomenon is influenced and created by man, both with the power plant and the sea’s increasingly warm water.”
Alen Soldo of the Swiss-based Shark Specialist Group at the International Union for Conservation of Nature said: “The spectacle is logical, but still very mysterious. We know sharks love this water, and we can hypothesise, but we can’t say with certainty exactly why.”
Hadera is not unique in the Med – sharks gather at coral reefs near Beirut, perhaps driven by salinity and temperature levels – but new species are now starting to appear in the steadily warming sea, heated by climate change and Red Sea waters following the recent expansion of the Suez Canal.
“The winters are not as cold as they used to be here, and they are no longer a limiting factor for sharks,” said Scheinin. “Many new shark species are coming to the eastern Mediterranean from colder areas and establishing populations.”
With plans already afoot to build an observation and learning centre for tourists, he said Hadera could “help us assess what will happen to different species when waters elsewhere reach the temperatures we have here now”.