It is brutally cold on the Northeast coast of the US right now. Temperatures are hovering around the 20s F (in negative digits measured when in Celcius) from Virgina to the Canadian border. It is so cold there are reports of sharks freezing. Two thresher sharks were found dead on a Cape Cod beach, believed disabled by cold shock, which led to their stranding and death.
Cold shock response is a physiological response to sudden cold, especially cold water. Newsweek reports that the program director of the Cape Cod-based Atlantic White Shark Conservancy [says] that it’s not uncommon for sea turtles to wash up on the beach after experiencing cold shock. However, sharks are water-breathing fish, so when they wash up on a beach, they can suffocate and die.
Cold shock is a leading cause of cold water deaths in humans, as well. When a person is immersed in cold water, there is an immediate, involuntary inhalation, which if underwater can result in drowning. The cold also causes blood vessels to restrict, which put stress on the heart and raises blood pressure. Cold shock can often induce heart attacks.
The RNLI notes that many deaths recorded by coroners are mistakenly attributed to either hypothermia, or drowning, when in fact the cause of death, or cause leading up to the death, is something different. One of the authors of the seminal work “Essentials of Sea Survival”, Professor Mike Tipton, is quoted as saying “if you are lucky enough to survive long enough to die of hypothermia, you have done very well; most die in the first minute of immersion”. It is cold water shock that tends to kill people around our shores.
We hope everyone stays warm and dry until the weather warms up.