More to sharks than meets the surface

Most people are quick to judge sharks by their appearance and see them as solitary hunters. But their behavior shows they are quite the complex animal.

FIU shark expert, National Geographic Explorer and researcher in the Institute of Environment, Yannis Papastamatiou recently joined National Geographic Society’s Clair McNulty to share his expertise on one of the ocean’s top predators.

Papastamatiou explored an aspect of the animal people don’t typically consider. Sharks are social animals – they live in groups.

His talk, “Secret Social Lives of Sharks,” highlights the species, their social bonds and how researchers study the social systems in which they live.

According to research, blacktip reef sharks form different social groups. While they like to spend time with each other, they don’t like socializing with sharks outside of their own community.

Advantages of social groups:

  1. Defense: There is a safety in numbers.
  2. Hunting:  Chances of securing food increases as they transfer information by watching one another.
  3. Mating: Sharks mate similar to mammals. When it comes to this species and mating season, multiple males follow a female and work together to position her in a way needed for reproducing.

Studying the behavior of sharks is much more difficult than other animals because researchers can’t simply observe them. For that reason, scientists gather information about sharks’ behavior using an electronic tool known as the “business card tag.” The tool keeps a record of which sharks the tagged shark interacts with.

“We’ve only had the ability to detect social structure in the last 10 years or so in terms of having the technology to study it or the analytical skills to detect it,” said Papastamatiou, a lead scientist in the Predator Ecology and Conservation Lab.

The data gathered gives scientists information which can then be translated into conservation outcomes.

Take a look at the video below for the full talk.

Need more shark content? Tune in to Nat Geo’s Sharkfest and catch Papastamatiou in “50 Shades of Sharks” premiering July 24 at 10 p.m.