What is a Sharkcano? Movie plot unfolding in Pacific Ocean in real time

Bruno Cooke May 26, 2022
What is a Sharkcano? Movie plot unfolding in Pacific Ocean in real time
Photo by: Luis Javier Sandoval/VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images


Sharkcano isn’t the name of a movie – you’re thinking of Sharknado – but it might soon be. The underwater volcano, properly named Kavachi, is home to several species of sharks that, while not mutant per se, have adapted to withstand the hostile environment – so, what is a Sharkcano?

What is the meaning of ‘Sharkcano’?

Sharkcano is the memorable nickname oceanographers gave to a submarine volcano 15 miles south of Vangunu Island, part of the Solomon Islands.

That’s east of Papua New Guinea, in the southwest Pacific Ocean.

The summit of the Sharkcano is about 65 feet below the water’s surface, while its base is on the seafloor, three quarters of a mile below.

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Kavachi gets its proper name from a sea god of the Indigenous Gatokae and Vangunu people, i.e., the people native to the nearby islands.

It has been erupting “nearly continuously”, writes Smithsonian Magazine, since “at least 1939”. That’s when people first recorded an eruption from the Sharkcano, meaning it may have actually started much earlier.

Are there mutant sharks living in the sea around the ‘Sharkcano’?

While this depends a little on how liberally you choose to define “mutant”, the answer is basically no. Nevertheless, The Sun calls them “mutant sharks”.

But there are sharks down there – hence the name Sharkcano, and hence why some people might be mistaking the geomorphological feature’s nickname for disaster franchise Sharknado.

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Specifically, scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini) and silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis) have adapted to the hostile waters around the Sharkcano’s “treacherous, lava-spewing vent”. That’s Smithsonian’s description.

“Surprisingly,” wrote the oceanographers who gave Kavachi its nickname in their 2016 report, “this hostile environment hosts a vibrant ecosystem.”

The presence of “gelatinous zooplankton, reef fish, and sharks … poses new questions centred on the resiliency of marine animals to rapid changes in their environments”.

How to stay up to date with Kavachi

The Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History Global Volcanism Program – a mouthful, to be sure – posts regular(ish) bulletins about the status of Kavachi, the volcano otherwise known as Sharkcano.

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NASA’s Earth Observatory first shared images of Sharkcano’s current undersea eruption on 14 May 2022. The pictures show plumes of greenish water gushing out of the submarine volcano.

Such torrents apparently often contain “particulate matter, volcanic rock fragments, and sulphur”. But the two shark species that have adapted to Sharkcano’s hostile environs don’t seem to mind.

Quite why it attracted scalloped hammerheads and silky sharks specifically, rather than any other type of shark, remains something of a mystery.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.