Sharks May Have Personalities

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Do sharks have social personality traits? According to a new study, they do. Some sharks act more gregarious and have strong social connections. Others are more solitary and prefer to remain inconspicuous.

A team from the University of Exeter and the Marine Biological Association of the UK (MBA) has been studying the behavior of spotted catsharks and have reported evidence of personalities. Personalities are known to exist in many animals, and are usually defined by individual characteristics such as how exploratory, bold or aggressive an individual is.

Darren Croft, of the Centre for Research into Animal Behavior at the University of Exeter, says, “We define personality as a repeatable behavior across time and contexts. What is interesting is that these behaviors differ consistently among individuals. This study shows, for the first time, that individual sharks possess social personalities.”

Researchers observed the sharks in a variety of habitats. David Jacoby, a behavioral ecologist says, “We found that even though the sizes of the groups forming changed, socially well-connected individuals remained well-connected under each new habitat. In other words, their social network positions were repeated through time and across different habitats.”

“These results were driven by different social preferences (i.e social/antisocial individuals) that appeared to reflect different strategies for staying safe. Well-connected individuals formed conspicuous groups, while less social individuals tended to camouflage alone, matching their skin color with the color of the gravel substrate in the bottom of the tank,” Jacoby explains.

Small sharks often fall prey to larger predators, and the research team thinks that sharks may have evolved strong social skills to protect themselves from predators.

These research findings were published yesterday in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. The work was funded by the Fisheries Society of the British Isles.

Image: Small spotted catshark (Hans Hillewaert)

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