September 30, 2023

Scientists were ‘shocked’ to find that young white sharks regularly venture close to swimmers and surfers, but do not attack

Extreme close-up of a great white shark with a white belly, teeth sticking out of its mouth and black eyes looking straight into the camera.

Juvenile white sharks don’t attack humans, according to new research.Philip Thurston/Getty Images

  • 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.

A researcher holds up a white drone to examine juvenile white sharks in their natural habitat.

The researchers used drones to study how close juvenile white sharks swam in the water to humans.Sean DuFrene

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. .

A person on a paddleboard with a young great white shark swimming nearby.

Young great white sharks swam closest to paddle boarders.Carlos Guana

“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.

A woman snorkeling touches a stingray underwater.

Stingrays, not humans, are more the dining preferences of young sharks.Stephen Frink/Getty Images

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.

Image showing juvenile white sharks swam closest to paddle boarders.

The scientists found that sharks venture closest to paddleboarders and surfers and not so close to waders and bodyboarders.Patrick Rex

“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.

A person placing their hand on the nose of a great white shark as it breaks the surface of the water with its giant mouth wide open.

You are more likely to be bitten by an adult great white shark than by a juvenile.Alexis Rosenfeld/contributor/Getty Images

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.

Aerial view of juvenile white sharks swimming off the coast of Southern California.

Patrick Rex

“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.

A snorkeling woman looks face to face with a sea lion underwater.

Sea lions are about the same size and shape as humans, which is why some sharks can mistake us for a meal.Brett Monroe Garner/Getty Images

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.

Two paddle boarders with a young shark swimming very close.

Carlos Gauna

“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.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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