When we say that sharks are quite proficient social learners–what does that mean, exactly?
Do they learn like we do in the human world? Are they active finstagrammers?
In the human world, we learn from our own experiences, but we also learn socially from our interactions with others–and we are not alone.
Many scientists are beginning to believe that sharks are not only capable of this complex behavior, but can also harness this method of learning to produce incredible results.
During my month spent on the Shark Reef Marine Reserve of Fiji last summer, I was able to conduct a simple research investigation to further explore this question. Every day, our group of high school students dove down to 100 feet to witness the feeding of bull sharks by trained Fijian dive masters. Bull sharks lined up to the left of the feeding station and, once fed, swam away to the right. If any shark hoping to be fed entered the feeding station from the wrong side, the dive masters would tap the shark on the nose with a short pole.
Remarkably, sharks learned to enter from the right during the twenty-minute feeding session. While many sharks had to be corrected at the beginning of the dive, the number of misguided sharks lessened throughout the twenty-minute period. From this, another classmate and I determined that the bull sharks, after seeing their comrades receive negative feedback from entering from the right, likely learned from their observations to enter from the left. (Additionally, in order to control variables in the experiment, we identified sharks by markings on their fins to weed out any repeat-offenders!)
Compiling the data from these magnificent dives, we analyzed the number of sharks prodded over the time interval and found that it significantly decreased over time and attributed this decrease to the bull sharks’ social learning capabilities. A micro-project to represent a much bigger phenomenon!
Interested? Read more about these sharks’ social learning here
(from the Fijian dive masters themselves!)
As swimmers and sunbathers take to the beach in warm May weather, sharks become an increasingly frequent topic of discussion. In fact, Great White Shark Mary Lee has generated 37.2 thousand twitter followers in the past few days. So what did Mary Lee do to become so popular?
In past weeks, Mary Lee has generated an enormous social media buzz as she popped up off the coast of Jones Beach, New York. Initially tagged in 2012 near Cape Cod, Mary Lee has traveled an impressive 20,000 miles since then according to OCEARCH data. Mary Lee has journeyed up and down the east coast, from Cape Cod to Floridian waters and back up again.
Though some follow Mary Lee out of fear (hoping that there are no Great White Sharks looming by their beaches), thousands have become intrigued by her journey. With such little known about the mating habits and migration patterns of Great White Sharks, Mary Lee is providing us with fascinating data.
Interested to see where she is now? Track Mary Lee’s journey here.
As the focus of my upcoming children’s book, Great White Sharks have drawn my affection in the past few years. The enormous size and power of Great Whites have made them the poster shark, so to speak, for terrifying monsters of the deep. However, public fear and even hatred has brought me to sympathize deeply with these misunderstood creatures. Take the example of Mary Lee—she has spent much time in the waters of popular public beaches, but yet has not been involved in a single attack. As a firm believer that Great Whites just get a bad rep, I will be releasing my children’s book (featuring the relationship between a young boy and a juvenile Great White) in early June! Stay tuned.