Sharks to tuna: fearsome predator, convenient backscratcher.

PLOS One has revealed a strange secret of the sea, in which researchers have observed tuna and other pelagic (free-swimming) teleosts (bony fishes) intentionally rubbing against the sandpapery skin of swimming sharks – apparently to scratch their itches and get rid of annoying (and health-draining) parasites:

These records span three ocean basins and, to the best of our knowledge, include the first records of scraping interactions involving tunas, blue sharks, and mako sharks as well as the first records of intraspecific scraping. We found that scrapers preferred scraping their head, eyes, gill cover, and lateral surfaces, areas where parasites are commonly found and where damage would likely have a substantial impact on fitness. Scraper species varied in their scraping preferences with tunas scraping mostly on the posterior caudal margins of sharks and occasionally conspecifics, while rainbow runner scraped in more varied locations on both sharks and conspecifics. Lengths of scrapers and scrapees were positively correlated and fish scraping on sharks were larger than those scraping on conspecifics, suggesting that risk of predation may be a limiting factor. We show that pelagic teleosts prefer to scrape on sharks rather than conspecifics or other teleosts and suggest that this behaviour may have a positive impact on teleost fitness by reducing parasite loads. The decline of shark populations in the global ocean and the reduction in mean size of many species may limit these interactions, eroding possible fitness benefits associated with this behaviour, and consequently placing more pressure on already highly targeted and vulnerable species.