Sharks queue at underwater beauty salon

Photo / Richard Robinson
By Kathy Marks
New Zealand Herald
March 10, 2010

SYDNEY – Everyone likes a bit of pampering now and again – and sharks and manta rays are no exception.

The feared ocean fish congregate in reef “salons” to be groomed by smaller fish, researchers have discovered.

And instead of being eaten during the cleaning sessions, the smaller fish derive nutrition as they remove dead and diseased tissue, mucus, scales and parasites from their “clients”.

Marine scientists at James Cook University in Townsville set up cameras on the Great Barrier Reef and the Osprey Reef, off Cairns.

Over five months they observed sharks and rays gathering frequently for a “clean, wax and polish”.

Sometimes the sessions would last several hours as the smaller fish swarmed continuously over the predators.

Professor Michael Kingsford, a member of the research team, said: “The manta rays would cease all movement of their fins while in the cleaning stations.

“Several cleaner fish would then migrate upwards towards the animal and begin cleaning.”

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Sharks would hold themselves in a vertical position while the smaller fish went to work, or would “casually swim over the site” to receive attention.

“The shark clients – in most cases – would swim back around into the current and repeat the process until cleaning had ceased,” Professor Kingsford said.

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