JANUARY 2011: My Surface Interval named one of the best scuba diving blogs

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sharks are NOT like Jack the Ripper

GREAT white sharks are just like sea-rial killers!
Terror of the seas target victims in the same was as psychopaths!

Er well, not exactly. You could be forgiven for thinking that the much maligned Great White shark was in for another kicking this week with headlines like that.

But they sadly missed the point of research by scientists at the University of Miami into hunting habits of the apex predator.

The scientists did use geographic profiling, a mathematical technique developed as a criminal investigation tool, to investigate the hunting habits of great whites - and found they picked their targets in a highly focused fashion.

They observed the location of 340 shark attacks at Seal Island, in False Bay off the coast of South Africa and used the data to locate the sharks' "anchor points".

The shark scientists found that mature sharks had a well defined search base with an "anchor point" tended to be 100 metres seaward of where the seals accessed and left the island where they lived - but not where the chances of prey interception were greatest rather where there was an optimal balance between detecting prey and capturing it.

Smaller, younger, sharks exhibited more dispersed search patterns and were less successful hunters, possibly indicating that hunting is refined with age or that smaller sharks are excluded from the best areas.

Neil Hammerschlag, from the University of Miami, who conducted the research, emailed sharkdivers blog to set the record straight.

In the posting Shark Science - Run Over by the Media, he wrote: "This study is getting a lot of attention; however it is as misunderstood as sharks.

"The study does not characterize sharks as serial killers in anyway, just that white sharks are more complex than we originally thought. Sharks are constantly swimming, and unlike other animals they do not have the equivalent of a den, nest, or burrow.

"Therefore, establishing the existence (including location, size, and shape) of a search base or “centre of gravity” for a search pattern could provide important insight into their hunting behavior.

"By applying geographic profiling, the study found that sharks are not mindless killers, but are in fact using sophisticated hunting strategies."

The full story is reported in the Journal of Zoology, published by the Zoological Society of London. You can purchase on on-line version or read a more balance piece on the BBC.

Readers of sharkdiver will also be excited by the news that Shark Divers CEO Patric Douglas will unveil the world’s newest white shark aggregation site exclusively for film and television productions on July 4 2009.

Typically divers are encountering up to 10 animals a day in 100 foot visibility.

“I have not seen anything as pristine, accessible, and ready made for television productions since the discovery of Mexico’s Isla Guadalupe in 2001,” said Douglas.

"You only discover new sites like this once every then years.”

So, we can expect a plethora of new great white docs next year then?

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