UK researchers claim that sharks have distinct personalities in a new study published Thursday in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.
As long as humans have been interacting with animals, they have assigned human characteristics to animals: the owl was wise, the coyote was clever, the lion was brave. But these traits are totally different from personality, which determine how a creature interacts within social groups.
The University of Exeter and the Marine Biological Association (MBA) collaborated on the report, which is the first study to show that sharks have social personalities, ScienceDaily reports.
Researchers focused specifically on the behavior of Scyliorhinus canicula, known in English as both the “lesser-spotted dogfish” and “small-spotted catshark.”
The sharks congregate by lounging on top of and around each other on the bottom of the seafloor. The study monitored ten groups of sharks in large tanks. Each tank contained three habitats of greater and lesser structural complexity.
Dr. David Jacoby, a behavioral ecologist and one of the study’s authors, “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.”
Dr. Jacoby continued, conspicuously avoiding describing the fish as “nerd” and “jock” sharks:
“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.”
Professor Darren Croft of the University of Exeter offered an explanation for the behavior. “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.
“In the wild these small juveniles can make easy prey items for larger fish, so different anti-predator strategies are likely to have evolved,” he continued, before adding, “More research, however, is required to truly test the influence of predators on social personality traits in sharks. This study is the first step in that direction,” Croft added.