HAVE you ever wondered why the Megalodon shark became to be so big? Or wondered why some other sharks are much smaller?
In a paper published by Evolution, research led by Swansea University’s Dr Catalina Pimiento and co-authored by an international team of scientists from the UK, Europe and the USA examined the biological traits of all sharks and rays before running a series of evolutionary models to seek how gigantism evolved over time.
The results showed that for a shark to be giant, it would need to first evolve adaptations that enhance feeding such as the ability to control – at least to some degree – their own body temperature or become a filter feeder.
One of the most famous giant sharks, Megalodon – the topic of 2018 Hollywood film The Meg – was an active predator that could measure up to 18 metres in length and became extinct around two million years ago.
Meanwhile, the whale shark – which is still around today – can also reach 18 metres but isn’t an active predator. Instead, it is a filter feeder and eats tiny plankton from the sea.
These two subjects formed key parts of the research, which centred on the tree of life for sharks, where the authors mapped characteristics relating to body size, like their thermo-regulatory capacity, feeding mechanism and diet.
Researchers then found that sharks could become giants by following one of two possible evolutionary pathways; the mesothermic pathway, which consists of evolving the ability to self-control the temperature of their most important organs – or the filter-feeding pathway, which consists of evolving the ability to feed on microscopic plankton.
The mesothermic adaptation allows sharks to live in different types of habitats – including cold waters – and also hunt more effectively. The filter-feeding adaptation allows sharks to eat the most abundant food in the ocean – plankton.
However, there are risks involved for any shark following the evolutionary pathways that lead to gigantism.
The mesothermic species need to consume big prey to maintain their high energetic demands, but when these prey are scarce, giant sharks are more susceptible to extinction. The scarcity of large prey in times of rapid climatic change was the most likely cause of the extinction of Megalodon.
While the filter feeders have shown more resilience, they are at risk of eating large volumes of toxic microplastics that now can be found in the world’s oceans – thus threatening their extinction.
Dr Catalina Pimiento, lead researcher and Postdoctoral fellow at Swansea University, said: “Sharks provide an ideal case study to understand the evolutionary pathways leading to gigantism in the oceans because they display contrasting lifestyles and adaptations and because they have an evolutionary history of at least 250 million years.”
Photo credit: Guillermo Torres. Banco de Imágenes Ambientales (BIA), Instituto Alexander von Humboldt.
Project in support of Ceredigion Lifeboat Campaign continues to grow
PUPILS at a London school have again this term been working on maths and English projects that highlight the need to retain an all-weather lifeboat in New Quay and, having impressed a leading educational guru, the project continues to grow.
Since the RNLI’s announcement in June 2017 that it plans to strip Ceredigion of its only all-weather lifeboat, public opposition has been growing. To date, over 31,000 people have signed a petition opposing the RNLI’s downgrade plan, and the Ceredigion Lifeboat Campaign has gained the support of a number of prominent politicians and public figures, as well as pupils from an inner-city London school.
Pupils at Harris Academy St John’s Wood have again spent the summer term studying the facts and figures of future lifeboat coverage in Cardigan Bay. The project was initiated last year by maths teacher Alexandra Lay, who was looking for meaningful and engaging ways into the curriculum, and the lifeboat theme has now become a fixture on the school’s curriculum.
Alexandra, who studied at Aberystwyth University, and is a keen kayaker, explained: “When I first saw a map of the huge gap that the RNLI’s decision will leave in Cardigan Bay, I saw an opportunity to teach loci to my year 8s with a real purpose and real-life application.
“As the project developed, my young mathematicians were able to apply their understanding of bearings, loci and speed, as well as distance and time. Through studying all the facts and figures, my pupils began to feel a real sense of empathy for the New Quay community and wanted to do what they could to help save the all-weather lifeboat.”
The project was then taken up by the English department who planned a series of lessons around the history of the RNLI and the role of the all-weather lifeboat at New Quay. Pupils debated the subject in their lessons and wrote persuasive letters to the RNLI Chief Executive.
The project has now caught the attention of Alistair Smith, a prominent presenter, trainer and developer in learning, education and professional football, who works with schools and colleges across the UK and abroad.
Alexandra continued: “Alistair Smith visited the school and observed one of my lifeboat lessons. He was very impressed with what we’d achieved and offered his full support and guidance.
“Alistair’s feedback led to the Head of Teaching and Learning championing the lifeboat campaign as a cross-curricular project across the academy. Next year, the whole year 7 curriculum for the summer term will be based around the theme of saving New Quay’s lifeboat.”
The Harris Federation is a not-for-profit charity that includes 47 primary and secondary academies across London, with 32,000 pupils and 3,700 staff. The school now plans to bring a group of students New Quay for a boat trip as a prize for the best work.
Alexandra continued: “I have thoroughly enjoyed working on the project this year. The pupils are more committed than ever and this is reflected in the quality of their work. The letters and reports that they have produced show that downgrading New Quay lifeboat will unquestionably be detrimental to seafarers and members of New Quay’s local community. It is undeniable that downgrading the all-weather lifeboat at New Quay will put lives at risk.”
In response to the letters written by the students to the RNLI Chief Executive last year, an RNLI representative gave an assurance that: “The Chief Executive and Operations Director have seen the work your students produced, and have asked our Education team to respond in full.” Almost 12 months later, the students are still waiting for a response.
Alexandra concluded: “The lack of response is very disappointing given the seriousness of the issue about which my students, colleagues and I feel so concerned. It makes us wonder whether the RNLI have any evidence at all to back the decision they made.”
To find out more about the campaign to save Ceredigion’s only all-weather lifeboat, visit www.ceredigionlifeboatcampaign.org.uk or search for Ceredigion Lifeboat Campaign on Facebook.
Ceredigion music teacher presented with Honorary Fellowship
A PERIPATETIC music teacher who worked for Ceredigion Music Service for 35 years has been presented as an Honorary Fellow of Aberystwyth University.
Originally from Treherbert in the Rhondda Valley, Alan Phillips began his music career playing brass with the local Treherbert Band whilst at school.
After leaving school he became a bricklayer – a skill which took him all over the UK and to Europe. Then, at the age of 23 he embarked on a Music degree at Aberystwyth, graduating in 1981.
After gaining a Post Graduate Certificate in Education from Cardiff, a chance encounter with some of his Aberystwyth friends led him to apply for the vacant brass peripatetic post in Ceredigion, to which he was duly appointed.
Over a 35 year career working for Ceredigion Music Service, Alan started the Aberystwyth Town Youth Band, and took numerous groups of young musicians to competitions at home and abroad.
Alan was presented as Honorary Fellow during the first of the University’s 2019 graduation ceremonies on Tuesday 16 July by Dr Rhodri Llwyd Morgan, Director of Welsh Language and External Engagement.
Hwyl yr Haf – Your guide for the summer holidays in Ceredigion
CERED’S 2019 Hwyl yr Haf programme was launched on July 5 at Gŵyl Aber. It is the essential guide for parents looking for Welsh and bilingual activities for their children in Ceredigion over the school summer holidays.
Cered has been creating Hwyl yr Haf programmes since 2017 to coordinate Welsh language activities during the school summer holidays in the Aberystwyth area, and to raise awareness of the wealth of Welsh language activities that are on the doorstep. This year’s programme will see Hwyl yr Haf include partners in south Ceredigion for the first time to ensure that Hwyl yr Haf actvities are accessible to children, young people and families across the county.
There are a number of new and exciting activities in Hwyl yr Haf 2019 including Ceredigion Museum’s planetarium and Gwersyll yr Urdd Llangrannog’s Activity Days. There are also art, music, drama and dance workshops; Gigs Cantre’r Gwaelod’s Sunday Afternoon Series; mountain biking sessions and much more.
Non Davies is Cered’s Manager. She said: “Over ten thousand people saw our Hwyl yr Haf programme in 2018 and many of the activities sold out. With new partners such as Cardigan Castle, Gwersyll yr Urdd Llangrannog and Llandysul Library on board for the first time, this year we hope that even more Ceredigion families can enjoy a wealth of Welsh language activities over the summer holidays.”
To find Hwyl yr Haf activities search for Cered on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or go to www.cered.cymru/hwyl-yr-haf-19.
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