Great White Sharks May Befriend Each Other in Hopes of Getting a Larger Meal, Research Finds

Often depicted as lone predators, great white sharks may be more social than originally thought, according to a new study from Florida International University

great white shark
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Often portrayed in popular culture as lone predators, great white sharks may be friendlier than we realized, according to new research.

Research tracking great white sharks off the coast of Mexico has revealed interesting insights into the mysterious social lives of these apex predators.

Researchers found that the great white sharks that gather seasonally around Guadalupe Island tend to stick together when patrolling. For instance, scientists observed great white sharks swimming together by seal colonies — like going on a shopping trip with friends.

The lead author of the new research, Dr. Yannis Papastamatiou of Florida International University (FIU), told SWNS, "Most associations were short. But there were sharks where we found considerably longer associations, much more likely to be social associations. Seventy minutes is a long time to be swimming around with another white shark."

To collect their eye-opening research, Dr. Papastamatiou's team put tags on great white sharks off the coast of Mexico that measured behavior and time spent with other tagged sharks.

"We showed sharks may form some strong associations — over a few days — with some individuals," the lead author shared. "But there is a lot of variation between sharks in terms of how social they may be and how they behave."

The data showed, for the most part, that great whites prefer to be in groups with members of the same sex. If the sharks shared any other similarities, it was in how unique each one was.

One tagged shark kept its tag on for only 30 hours and had one of the highest numbers of associations — 12 sharks. Another had the tag on for five days and only spent time with two other sharks.

The tagged great whites also displayed different hunting tactics — Some were active in shallow waters, others deeper down in the depths. Some were more active during the day, others at night.

"The important question we still have to answer is what is the reason for being social for these sharks?" Dr. Papastamatiou said. "We still don't know. But it is likely they may stay in proximity of other individuals in case those individuals are successful in killing large prey."

Observations of other species have shown that sociality can increase an animal's ability to take advantage of another's hunting success. The same may be happening with the great white sharks near Guadalupe.

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"They aren't working together but being social could be a way to share information," Dr. Papastamatiou added.

The study based on the new great white research was published in Biology Letters. Dr. Papastamatiou's team hopes the additional evidence for great whites forming non-random friendships will encourage other researchers to tag, study and protect great white sharks.

"Technology now can really open up the secret lives of these animals.

"We are going beyond tracking where they are and where they go. As the technology gets better, we can keep answering more questions."

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