Business Technology

Sunday 8 December 2019

Shark social: They could have as many as 200 fishy Facebook friends each, research finds

A 16ft great white shark leaps from the water off Australia
A 16ft great white shark leaps from the water off Australia
Source: American Geophysical Union

Cara McGoogan

Sharks are the first fish known to have networks of friends, just like mammals.

Contrary to the common belief that sharks are solitary animals, researchers at the University of Delaware found that sharks actually have thriving social networks.

Using acoustic tracking devices, the oceanographers followed over 300 Sand Tiger sharks and recorded their interactions over the course of a year.

They discovered that the sharks have complex social structures, akin to those of smart mammals such as dolphins, elephants and chimpanzees.

"Higher-order decision-making processes are often associated with mammals," said Danielle Haulsee, a PhD candidate at the University of Delaware. "Our research shows that it is important for the scientific community to not rule out these types of behaviours in non-mammalian species."

The study was the first to follow free swimming sharks for this extended period of time. Previous research has focused on the interactions of sharks in laboratories or captivity.

Initial data from two of the monitored sharks shows that they encountered hundreds of other Sand Tiger sharks in a year.

"Facebook for sharks"

If the sharks were connected through "Shark Social" - the researchers' reimagining of Facebook for sharks - they could have as many as 200 friends each, and 17 best friends.

Halusee hopes the research will inform conservation efforts as they can now map where sharks congregate and when.

"If we know where and when the population is grouped, we can focus on limiting human-induced disturbances in those times and places," said Halusee. "For example, if we know there are certain times and places where breeding females, or even more importantly the pregnant females, are aggregated together, we can devote resources into those areas to protect those sharks."

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