November 5, 2019
Ever since the release of the movie, Jaws, in 1975, great white sharks have become a cultural icon—representing vicious, scary manhunters. But at the end of the day, they just want to get together with some friends and socialize like the rest of us, according to results of research recently conducted in Australia.
In fact, Study Finds reports, although they hunt and travel alone, white sharks get together a few times each year with the same group of friends for a hearty meal of baby seals.
Scientists have known for some time that large groups of white sharks feast together on prey sporadically, but up until now they had assumed these dinner parties were a completely random result of individual sharks traveling to areas filled with food.
Now, a research team led by behavioral ecologist Stephan Leu of Macquarie University in Sydney has discovered that many of these sharks actually know each other and have been getting together for years.
Working in collaboration with researchers from Flinders University in Adelaide, the Fox Shark Research Foundation in Port Lincoln, and the French National Centre for Scientific Research in Paris, France; Leu and his team took photographs of nearly 300 white sharks for four and a half years, according to Study Finds.. The sharks were photographed meeting close to a seal nursery off the coast of the Neptune Islands in the Great Australian Bight.
Through the use of photo identification and network analysis technology, researchers were able to identify and keep track of each individual shark that visited the area. To their surprise, they noted that many of the same sharks were observed in close proximity to each other time and time again over the course of the observation period. So much so, that researchers say there is no way it was simply a coincidence.
“Rather than just being around randomly, the sharks formed four distinct communities, which showed that some sharks were more likely to use the site simultaneously than expected by chance,” Dr Leu comments in a release.
“The numbers varied across time, and we suggest that sex-dependent patterns of visitation at the Neptune Islands drive the observed community structure. Our findings show that white sharks don’t gather just by chance, but more research is needed to find out why.”
On a related note, it seems sharks aren’t the only aquatic animals with a penchant for get-togethers; another recent study conducted at Macquarie University found that manta rays regularly form close-knit and structured relationships that could also be described as communities.
Research contact: @StudyFinds