- Using a “super social tag,” a team of researchers from Florida International University tracked great white sharks over a four-year period.
- Data from the devices revealed sharks preferred to be in groups of the same sex.
- Some sharks swam with other sharks for over an hour, with pairs taking turns patrolling seal colonies.
Great white sharks have been portrayed as the most ferocious, dangerous creature in the ocean ever since the release of “Jaws” in 1975. But what if instead of one shark haunting the waters, there were two working together?
Scientists say research off Mexico’s Guadalupe Island in the Pacific Ocean shows great white sharks are sociable and will sometimes work together to increase their chances of catching prey. Their findings were published in the journal Biology Letters on Wednesday.
Around 160 miles west of Baja California, Guadalupe Island is home to a small group of scientists and also a popular tourist destination for spotting great white sharks because of the abundance of seals. Nautilus Dive Adventures, which offers tours of the island, says over 1,000 sharks will be around the island from June to January.
But what makes this location unique is the waters off the island are very clear, and while that would make it easier for a white shark to spot prey, prey can also easily see a potential predator.
What’s everyone talking about? Sign up for our trending newsletter to get the latest news of the day
To see how these conditions affected the way the sharks hunt, a team of scientists from Florida International University created a “super social tag” tracking device to put on the great white sharks.
With a video camera and sensors detecting a shark’s acceleration, depth and direction, the device also has receivers to detect when other sharks were near them. The team then put the devices on three male and three female white sharks over a four-year period.
Shark mistakes: You look like a seal – at least to a baby great white shark, study suggests
‘Very chunky’: Great white shark leaves researchers in awe
The data showed sharks preferred to be in groups of the same sex, but their ways of hunting were unique. One shark had the tag on for only 30 hours, but in that time frame, it associated with 12 other sharks. Another that had the tag on for five days was only with two other sharks. Some of these associations lasted over an hour, with pairs taking turns patrolling seal colonies.
“Most associations were short, but there were sharks where we found considerably longer associations, much more likely to be social associations,” Yannis Papastamatiou, marine scientists at FIU and lead author of the study said in a statement. “Seventy minutes is a long time to be swimming around with another white shark.”
Footage also showed the sharks had different hunting tactics, such as lurking in shallow or deeper waters, as well as actively patrolling during the day or night.
Papastamatiou said there is no definitive answer as to why white sharks are being social, but it’s likely because if one shark is successful in finding large prey, another will want to know how to have the same success.
“We propose that white sharks associate with other individuals so they can inadvertently share information on the location or remains of large prey. However, there may be a wide range of individual variability in both behavior and sociality,” the study reads.
The sample size is small, but Papastamatiou said the study’s findings give scientists a direction into the relationship between sharks. He hopes to develop tracking systems that can be used for weeks, possibly years to see the development of relationships between sharks.
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.