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Freakier than ‘Sharknado’? These mutant sharks thrive on underwater volcanic heat and acid

Welcome to ‘Sharkcano’ — where sharks hang out in the hellish spew of an active volcano crater.

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Call it a wild guess, but the warped minds behind the Sharknado franchise may have a whole new source of mutated-shark inspiration just begging to be mined for slapstick-horror gasps. Unlike their bonkers small-screen counterparts, though, this one comes straight from a freaky underwater scene — one roiling in acidic, superheated waters — found deep beneath the actual ocean surface.

The latest eruption of Kavachi, one of the most active submarine volcanoes in the Pacific, has the geological phenomenon back on researchers’ radar, including clearer-than-ever looks at the site’s enormous underwater plume from above. The new imagery comes from NASA’s Operational Land Imager telescopes aboard a pair of orbiting satellites, but what’s especially freaky is the recent discovery of two types of shark that live right inside the volcano’s sulfur-saturated crater.

Known to researchers since the 1930s (and to residents in the nearby Solomon Islands long before that), the volcano — named for a local sea god — is prone to frequent, lengthy eruptions that create a unique ecological zone within the reach of its underwater plume. That’s where specimens of both the silky and scalloped hammerhead shark were observed following an eruption in 2014, prompting scientists to ponder how they could survive and thrive in such extreme conditions.

The sharks’ uncanny aptness for extra-spicy acid baths sounds straight out of science fiction — and observers thought so too, even going so far as to unofficially christen their hellish habitat the “Sharkcano” in a research paper that marvels at creatures capable of living inside a spewing volcano crater.

“Populations of gelatinous animals, small fish, and sharks were observed inside the active crater, raising new questions about the ecology of active submarine volcanoes and the extreme environments in which large marine animals can exist,” the group abstracted in their 2016 article “Exploring the ‘Sharkcano’: Biogeochemical Observations of the Kavachi Submarine Volcano (Solomon Islands).”

The team goes on to wonder whether the animals “have a particular tolerance for hot and acidic water” that might afford them “a greater chance of surviving human-induced changes to ocean chemistry and periods of increased submarine volcanism on a global scale.”

Hey, we’ve seen the movies, and our money is definitely on the sharks being able to tolerate a lot — even if they have to mutate to do it.

After going to time-bending extremes to save humanity in The Last Sharknado: It's About Time, we’re not sure if Ian Ziering and Tara Reid have anything left in the tank to revive a gloriously goofy franchise that officially concluded with SYFY’s 2018 Sharknado swan song. But if they ever did decide to get the gang back together for another beach patrol, they’d find more than enough sci-fi source material deep in the trenches of Kavachi…where the freaky real-life sharks aren’t waiting around for screenwriters to pass the popcorn.

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