Deep blue dinner party: Great white sharks thought to be solitary hunters regularly meet groups of the same ‘friends’ to feast on baby seals together
- Researchers in Australia watched almost 300 sharks for four-and-a-half years
- They saw them spend time with the same specific individuals over and again
- This suggests they have social networks which regularly meet to feed together
Great white sharks, long considered savage solo predators, may have their own grotesque versions of dinner parties.
Scientists have tracked the oceanic beasts routinely meeting up in the same groups to feast on baby seals together.
And they say the sharks form ‘distinct communities’ and spend time with the same comrades more often than they would if the meetings were random.
Great white sharks are often thought of as savage solo predators but new research suggests they might have social ties to others with whom they meet up and feed (stock image)
The discovery, by researchers at Macquarie University in Australia, turns theories about the sharks’ social inclinations on their head, the team said.
They had been watching almost 300 great white sharks off the country’s southern coast for four-and-a-half years.
Returning to feed at a seal nursery in the Neptune Islands, off the coast of Adelaide, the sharks appeared to meet up with purpose.
In the past the gatherings had been assumed to be random and simply a result of all the sharks going where they could find the most food.
Great white sharks, which are carnivorous and have hundreds of serrated teeth, grow to be upwards of 15 feet (4.6m) long and weigh more than two-and-a-half tonnes (stock image)
One of the researchers, Dr Stephan Leu, said: ‘Rather than just being around randomly, the sharks formed four distinct communities.
‘[This] showed that some sharks were more likely to use the site simultaneously than expected by chance.
‘Our findings show that white sharks don’t gather just by chance, but more research is needed to find out why.’
Dr Leu and his colleagues tracked the sharks by taking photos of them and noticed they would be seen feeding with same others over and over again.
Great white sharks grow to be upwards of 15 feet (4.6m) long and weigh more than two-and-a-half tonnes.
They are carnivorous fish which have around 300 serrated teeth arrange in rows, and they feed mainly off seals, sea lions turtles and small whales.
Other species of shark have been found to have more complicated social relationships, too.
Research in 2012 revealed that blacktip reef sharks living in French Polynesia organised themselves into a social network with distinct smaller groups.
The work by the French Centre for Island Research and Environmental Study found that some sharks in a group would spend a lot of time with specific individuals.
While others would go out of their way to avoid other members of the group to avoid hostility.
Author of that study, Johann Mourier, said at the time: ‘We conclude that the observed grouping patterns not only resulted from passive aggregations for specific resources, but rather the communities developed from an active choice of individuals as a sign of sociability.’
Dr Leu and his colleagues from Flinders University and the Fox Research Foundation, published their work on great whites in the journal Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology.
HOW SHARKS EARNED THEIR RUTHLESS REPUTATION
Sharks are the most efficient predators on earth and have long terrified humans.
Their basic design has never really changed over the course of 200million years and they are considered to be complex and intelligent.
Their teeth are fear factor number one, with the great white’s teeth growing up to two-and-a-half inches in length.
Their prey are impaled on the pointed teeth of the lower jaw where they saw away sections of the flesh. The serrated edges of the teeth help with this process.
Their teeth are brittle and are constantly breaking off but are also constantly regrowing and on average there are 15 rows of teeth present in the mouth at one time.
Sharks are the most efficient predators on earth. Their basic design has never really changed over the course of 200million years
Their speed is fear factor number two.
They are very fast in the water compared to humans with the mako shark able to reach an incredible 60mph in bursts.
The great white can reach speeds of 25mph.
By comparison, 5mph is the fastest a human being can reach.
A shark’s power and size terrifies us, too.
The great white shark can grow up to 20 feet and while it has no particular taste for humans even an exploratory bite is enough to cut a man in half.
Most sharks release a human after its first bite but sometimes, that’s all it take to kill a person.
However, sharks have far more reason to be afraid of humans. We kill up to a million of them a year, often just cutting off their fins to make into soup and throwing the rest of the shark back into the water, where it starves or drowns.