As awesome as sharks are, they don’t really have a reputation for being cute, cuddly, and awwww-inducing, but this may be about to change. A new study has revealed that some sharks show a preference for hanging out with particular individuals that lasts years – essentially they have BFFs.
Researchers studying the social interactions of Port Jackson sharks, one of the most common sharks found in Southern Australia, used social network analysis to get a better understanding of their social lives, and what they discovered was surprising.
"One of the exciting things about this research is that we found the large aggregations that these sharks form in the breeding season is not a random collection of individuals," said study author Culum Brown in a statement. "These sharks prefer to hang out with other individuals who are similar to them."
Studying the behavior of large sea creatures is understandably hard as you need to get up close and personal to observe behavior, and sometimes that’s not ideal when your subject has more teeth than you.
However, Port Jackson sharks are small sharks that migrate each year, from Jervis Bay in New South Wales to Tasmania. They return to Jervis Bay each year for breeding season, so the researchers tagged the sharks and used the social network analysis as well as acoustic receivers planted in the seabed to track them in 2012-2013.
Using these, they could see which sharks hung out with each other and for how long. Their results, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, revealed that when the sharks return to the breeding ground, they do so with impressive accuracy. It also showed that they chose to spend time with the same individuals – usually of the same size and sex – year on year.
"Both males and females return to the same rocky reef to breed year after year, which is unusual for sharks, but it means that these sharks establish long-term relationships over many years," said co-author Jo Day from Taronga Zoo.
Yep, not only do sharks have buddies, they have annual get-togethers, too.
"This research sheds light on the social behavior and movement patterns of sharks generally and will help dispel the 'mindless killer' label these fascinating creatures are all too often lumped with," said Brown.
The researchers hope that this, as well as other recent studies, like the one last year that revealed sharks have personalities, will go towards changing perceptions of sharks. After all, how can they be the most dangerous creatures on the planet when humans are around?