After all, man-eating tiger sharks are not loners and can hunt in packs – which, according to new research, makes them even more deadly than previously feared.
The fearsome predators choose social groups – contrary to popular belief, scientists say.
But friendships break when exposed to the lures provided by dive travel companies.
The study’s lead author, Dr. David Jacoby, a zoologist at Lancaster University, said, “The line between wildlife and humans is getting thinner.
“So not only have we observed new social behavior for the first time in what was once known as a lone shark, but we also measured the effects of human activity on the interactions of these predators.”
The snub-nosed tiger shark ranks second after the great white shark in the number of recorded attacks on humans. It has razor-sharp, serrated teeth and powerful jaws that can break a person in two.
They allow the ocean monster to crack the shells of sea turtles and clams.
Ten years ago, an Australian vacationer was torn apart by a shoal off the coast of Queensland. The horrific case was considered unusual because of her reputation as a loner.
Now they were being watched enjoying each other’s company off Tiger Beach in the Bahamas – a popular vacation spot.
The study in Frontiers in Marine Science is the first to show how bait feeding affects behavior.
The interactions became more random when food was provided. They also displayed a “take it or leave it” attitude – suggesting that it did not last long.
Unless the frequency of tourist activity increases, sharks could likely maintain their natural behavior if not fed – and avoid addiction.
Dr. Jacoby said, “Fortunately, they show some resilience to bait feeding.”
Bait shark dives – which are conducted around the world to attract the animals to tourists – are controversial. Conservationists say they could turn them into less efficient hunters. Most of the species are critically endangered.
An international team combined acoustic tracking data with social network analysis to observe the tiger sharks over a period of three years.
The investigated waters harbor a high proportion of females, especially in the winter months, around a quarter of which are pregnant.
Senior author Professor Neil Hammerschlag of the University of Miami said, “Since tiger sharks spend months in the open ocean as solitary predators, it is amazing to me that they show social preferences when they congregate in the Tiger Beach area.” .
“I’ve spent countless hours scuba diving at Tiger Beach for nearly two decades, wondering if these top predators interact socially. Now we know.”
Analyzing the social behavior of predators is vital. It paints a picture of how they live, what drives them to form social groups, and what roles they play within the larger ecosystem.
Most shark species are critically endangered due to verishing and climate change.
Dr. Jacoby added, “We hope that unless the frequency of these diving trips increases, the sharks will be able to maintain their natural behavior regardless of the amount of time they spend near tourists during the dives.”
In August 2011, a swimmer was killed in a tiger shark feeding frenzy while trying to retrieve a small boat that had loosened from its anchor. It has been speculated that these were younger sharks – since they were in a group. The builder was taking a break with friends on the paradisiacal Fantome Island when the tragedy struck.
Tiger sharks can grow up to 17 feet in length. They are named for the dark streaks on their bodies that fade as they age.
The stomach contents of captured tiger sharks included stingrays, sea snakes, seals, birds, octopus, and even license plates and old tires.
The World Conservation Union (IUCN) lists the tiger shark in its entire range as “almost threatened”.
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