Researchers found that juvenile white sharks swam close to humans 97% of the time.
Young white sharks grow up to be great white sharks, known to be dangerous to humans.
One researcher said they were “shocked” that young great whites never attacked humans.
Great white sharks top many lists as “the most dangerous sharks” to humans. That’s because they hold the record for the highest number of unprovoked shark attacks on humans.
However, a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE earlier this month by researchers at the California State University Long Beach Shark Lab reveals a different side to young great whites.
Using drones, the researchers examined shark activity for just over two years in the waters of 26 Southern California beaches.
They conducted a total of 1,644 aerial drone surveys and found that young great white sharks got close to human swimmers, paddle boarders and surfers 97% of the time during their study, but the sharks never attacked once.
“Honestly, we were shocked. Sharks interacted with humans every day, several times a day, and they just swam by,” Christopher Lowe, one of the study’s authors and the director of CSULB Shark Lab, told the Boston Herald. .
“And the fact that no one was bitten contradicts the misconception that if a great white shark is around you will be attacked. This shows that this is not the case,” he added.
Why juvenile white sharks so often swim near humans
From the researchers’ drone footage, it may appear that juvenile white sharks like to hang out with swimmers and surfers. But it’s probably not because they adore us.
The shallow water near the beaches “is actually the natural habitat that the young white sharks use. It also happens to be popular with humans,” Yannis Papastamatiou, a shark behavior expert and an assistant professor at the Florida International University, to Insider.
They prefer to live in shallow waters, probably because food is plentiful here and these habitats also provide protection from predation or competition with larger, great white sharks. Large sharks usually live in the open ocean or deep-sea areas.
Also, young great whites prefer warmer waters, which again can overlap with regions that beachgoers flock to.
“They use the same habitats as human recreational water users,” said Catherine Macdonald, a marine conservation biologist and director of the University of Miami’s Shark Research and Conservation Program.
“This is completely normal shark behavior and there is nothing to suggest to me that sharks choose locations based on human presence,” Macdonald added.
Why juvenile white sharks don’t normally attack humans
While great white sharks are notorious for attacking humans, the actual number of attacks is low. Over the centuries, 326 unprovoked attacks and 52 fatalities have been recorded, the World Animal Foundation reported.
Your chance of being bitten by a great white shark, or any other shark for that matter, is extremely rare. You are more likely to get hit and die by lightning.
In fact, most of these California cases are of mistaken identity, according to the researchers. The shark thinks it’s biting a seal, and instead it’s a surfboard or a person.
“We rarely, if ever, see the shark consume humans. They bite and release the person when they realize we’re not a seal,” Patrick Rex, an author of the study and a field technician at the CSULB Shark Lab, told Insider.
In addition, Rex said the attacks usually happen to adult great whites (at least 21 feet tall), since they’re the ones that feed on seals and sea lions that are the shape and size of a human.
On the other hand, juvenile sharks are only about half the size of adult sharks and therefore avoid hunting large mammals, such as humans.
“We’re really not on the menu for sharks of this size,” Papastamatiou said.
Their diet includes stingrays, small fish, and bottom-dwelling fish such as halibut.
“So when they hunt, they’re hunting on the sea floor rather than on the surface where people are. So really, we don’t think the sharks want anything to do with us in general,” Rex added.
However, it doesn’t mean that the risk of being bitten by a juvenile great white dog is zero – it’s just very low.
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