Great White Sharks May Become Social and Make Friends for Food

Our image of great white sharks, admittedly bolstered by pop culture, usually consists of one of a single fin, swimming menacingly toward its prey in the ocean. But it turns out the great white sharks may actually be more social animals than previously imagined. In fact, great white sharks may make friends for one common purpose, food. And honestly, we can understand that. Who among us wouldn’t collaborate for a better treat. Friends and food equal a win, win. And great white sharks may know this. A recent study by Yannis Papastamatiou, a marine scientist at Florida International University, dives a little deeper into the sharks’ social behaviors.

The Social Behaviors and Possible Friendships of Great White Sharks
Great white shark flipped so there are two great white sharks for shark social friendships article
Elias Levy

The study, which we first saw on  People, set out to understand the social dynamics of the sharks, especially when it comes to their foraging behaviors. The study, published in Biology Letters, notes:

Social foraging, where animals forage in groups, takes many forms but is less studied in marine predators as measuring social associations in the wild is challenging. We used biologging (activity, cameras and telemetry receivers) sensors to measure social associations and simultaneous behaviour, in white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) off Guadalupe Island, Mexico.

Of course, studying any animal in the ocean, where they can slip away with ease presents a difficulty. Add to that trying to study creatures with teeth like great white sharks, and it can feel impossible. But using the biologging method, Papastamatiou and his team were able to learn more about how these sharks socialized. And though many associations seemed random, some sharks, it seems, came together to “inadvertently share information on the location or remains of large prey.”

In short, the sharks found stronger social associations, we’ll call them, friends, in order to get their next meal. That sounds smart to us. According to People, Papastamatiou shared, “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.”

Why Studying Shark Friendships Is Important
A great white shark swimming through the water, surrounded by fish that it has its eye on.

Seventy minutes feels like a long time to spend with anyone, really. Although much more research is needed to know if great white sharks really do make friends this is a promising start. And if the great white sharks do make friends is it really their lunch that connects them, or could there be more to the story than food? This one study doesn’t answer every question, but, according to the article, Papastamatiou hopes that if great white sharks can indeed form friendships, it will encourage greater protection for the animal. And, hopefully, that sentiment will extend not just to one type of shark, but for all sharks.

Hopefully, this new study encourages both scientists and laypeople alike to think a little differently about the great white shark. After all, these animals may enjoy sharing their lunch, just like we do. And they deserve to have their meals and shark chats in peace.

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