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Do Sharks Travel in Groups?

do sharks travel in groups
Do sharks travel in groups?

Yes, scientific studies have found some sharks will travel in groups and even hunt together. But this depends on the shark’s species, personality and social behaviour. Prey availability and the time of year also play a role.

Basking Sharks Hanging Out in Family Groups

Green Fire Productions, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Basking sharks migrate yearly to the Irish Sea and Scotland Sea of the Hebrides from May to October, where they breed and feed on plankton. A team of Scottish scientists from the University of Aberdeen used skin mucus that they swabbed off the basking sharks close to the surface. They built up a DNA register of 400 individuals using the samples.

By looking at the DNA samples, they found basking shark relatives together. Dr Catherine Jones, a member of the team, suggested that the sharks may hang out together so that the young could learn the migration routes and encourage other teamwork. Scientists in Ireland and Norway who also took part also published their findings.

Great White Sharks Hunting Together

Hermanus Backpackers, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Great white sharks, believe it or not, are sociable animals based on the research done by scientists off the coast of Mexico’s Guadalupe Island in the Pacific Ocean. The island is 160 miles west of Baja, California and is popular with tourists who want to spot a great white shark.

The island has an abundance of seals that draws in more than 1,000 great white sharks annually between June and January. The water around the island is unique in that it is crystal clear.

This allows the sharks to identify easy prey, but the drawback is the seals can easily see the sharks approaching. By sharks working together, they increase the odds of catching a seal.

Over four years, sharks were fitted with tracking devices they found that they preferred to stay in same-sex groups. It also revealed the social personalities of individuals, with some sharks mingling with several sharks. In contrast, other sharks would only hang around with a select few in the same period.

The camera footage also revealed the different hunting strategies sharks used. Some preferred to hunt in deep water, while others liked to stalk in shallow water. Sharks also showed a time preference for when they did their hunting, be it day or night.

Reef Sharks Hunting Together

USFWS – Pacific Region, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Yannis Papastamatiou fitted 41 grey reef sharks with a location transmitter that would ping when they swam within the distance of one of the 65 receivers’ placed along the coral reef. Two reef sharks were also fitted with cameras.

The data showed the reef sharks could recognise each other and spend the day hanging out with each other before heading out at night to hunt together. The reef sharks would never share a kill, but their chances of catching prey were significantly improved when in a group. If one shark missed their target, another shark would stand a chance of catching it instead.

The reef sharks remained in the same social groups for the complete four-year study. The biggest groups would hold 20 sharks. An interesting fact is that a group of sharks are called a shiver.

Lemon Sharks Hunting Together

A group of lemon sharks scavenging.
A group of lemon sharks scavenging.

Lemon sharks are another species that are known to hunt together. They form small groups of up to 20 sharks and feed at dawn and dusk together. The lemon sharks do not share their food, though, so it’s every shark for itself. They feed on crustaceans, bony fish, stingrays, seabirds and small sharks.

They are named after their yellowish-brown skin, which helps them to blend in against the sandy sea floor. They live in coastal waters, coral reefs, river mouths and mangrove forests of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Bull Sharks Forming Friendships?

Albert Kok, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Fiji’s Shark Reef Marine Reserve is one of the world’s most sought-after diving destinations. Data was collected from over 3,000 dives here over 13 years, looking at the behaviour of 91 individual bull sharks. The sharks were recognisable as they had scars, missing fins or deformities.

The data showed some bull sharks would prefer the company of certain sharks over others. The dives were baited, though, so the Switzerland researcher, Dr Juerg Brunnschweiler, designer of the study. Claimed the availability of food may have influenced the findings.

Sharks Have Their Own Personalities

Ecomare/Sytske Dijksen, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Marine Biological Association in Plymouth, working with the University of Exeter, carried out a controlled study on catsharks. They published a joint journal on the Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology of the catsharks.

The experiment contained ten different groups, each containing ten spotted catsharks. They were placed into three different tank setups, from complex environments to bare, simple tanks.

Time and time again, the same individuals would form groups while the less sociable sharks would remain alone. The lead author Dr David Jacoby a marine biologist and behavioural ecologist said the sociable sharks would form groups for protection. In comparison, the anti sociable sharks would have to rely on their camouflage to avoid predators. This animal behaviour has been studied across the animal kingdom.

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