Great white sharks form social bonds while hunting • Earth.com
A new study led by Florida International University (FIU) investigated the social lives of great white sharks that seasonally congregate around Guadalupe Island in Mexico, and found that these animals tend to form ” friendships” when they roam the oceans in search of prey. Using an innovative combination of tracking tools, scientists found that the sharks tended to stick together when patrolling to check on seal colonies or other food sources around the island.
“Most of the associations were short, but there were sharks where we found considerably longer associations that were much more likely to be social associations,” said study lead author Yannis Papastamatiou, a marine biologist. at the FRC. “Seventy minutes is a long time to swim with another white shark.”
Ever since Guadalupe Island teemed with tuna and seals, it has become a hotspot for white sharks looking for prey. Although close to the South African and Australian coasts the waters are murkier and white sharks leap out of the water to sneak attack and ambush prey, the waters off Guadalupe Island are very clear, which makes it much easier for predators and prey to notice each other. According to the researchers, these environmental particularities force sharks to adapt their hunting strategies.
In order to study and understand these behavioral changes, scientists combined different commercially available technologies into a “super social tag” that collected data for up to five days before detaching from sharks’ dorsal fins and float on the surface of the sea. These instruments were equipped with a video camera and various sensors, including special receivers that could detect if other sharks were nearby.
The researchers tagged six sharks (three males and three females) over a four-year period and found that they often associate with other sharks, most likely to take advantage of other sharks’ hunting success.
“The important question we still need to answer is what is the social purpose for these sharks? We still don’t know. But they are likely to stay close to other individuals in case those individuals succeed in killing large prey,” Dr Papastamatiou explained. “They don’t work together, but being social could be a way to share information.”
While the researchers admit the study’s sample size is small, they still say it provides more evidence that sharks form non-random social associations and may offer new insights into when and why. for which such associations occur.
Further research with better technological tools is needed to fully understand the complex social life of white sharks. “Technology can now really unlock the secret lives of these animals. We are moving beyond tracking where they are and where they are going. As technology improves, we can continue to answer more questions,” concluded Dr. Papastamatiou.
The study is published in the journal Biology Letters.
By Andrei Ionescu, Terre.com Personal editor