Some Great White Sharks Befriend Each Other to Pull in Larger Meals, Study Reveals

Great white shark - Sputnik International, 1920, 24.03.2022
The social lives of great white sharks may be more complex than researchers previously thought. After tracking six of these large predators off the coast of Guadalupe Island in Mexico, researchers discovered the ocean’s apex predator actually has a softer side.
Thus far, marine biologists have experienced some difficulty in studying the social foraging of sharks, with less focus on the social associations these predators share. Researchers with the Florida International University were able to make a significant advance in this area by studying great white sharks using cameras and telemetry receivers to observe social behaviors.
The study found that these sharks, which range from 11 to 16 feet long (males are typically smaller, females are larger) were able to form “non-random social associations and may remain in proximity to each other to take advantage of pinniped kills.”
Lead author of the study, Dr. Yannis Papastamatiou, added that these friendships are not long-lived. “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,” he adds.
Great whites are formidable predators, with a jaw size that can reach a length of 36 inches, or 92 centimeters. Depending on their size, they can exert a force with their jaws that ranges anywhere from 0.3 tonnes to 1.8 tonnes. The great white shark has no known rival, aside from the killer whale, and of course, humans.
“We showed sharks may form some strong associations, over a few days, with some individuals,” says Papastamatiou. “But there is a lot of variation between sharks in terms of how social they may be and how they behave.”
“Sharks may stay in proximity of other individuals in case those individuals are successful in killing large prey,” he adds.
The researchers tracked three males and three females of the species and learned that they preferred to befriend others of the same sex. Some sharks too, proved to be better at socializing than others. One shark made at least 12 friends within 30 hours of its tracking.
Another shark showed itself to be more reclusive than its gregarious counterpart, only making two friends within a span of five days.
Some sharks socialized depending on the time of day as well as the depth of their hunting. Guadalupe is an area teeming with the predators favorite food: tuna and seals. The clear water in this region also made it easier to track the mysterious animals.
One question still stumps researchers however. Papastamatiou wants to know the reason great whites feel the need to socialize.
“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,” he says. “They aren't working together but being social could be a way to share information.”
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