Sharks Hunt in Shifts to Avoid Each Other, Share Resources

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Sharks are the kings of coexistence; Scientists have just discovered that the animals conserve resources and avoid one another by voluntarily hunting in shifts.

The research out of Murdoch University’s Harry Butler Institute is the first example of marine predators dividing up resources in a shared foraging area.

Drs. Karissa Lear and Adrian Gleiss led efforts to tag six species of coastal shark in Florida with acceleration data-loggers containing technology similar to what you would find in a FitBit. To their surprise, shark species displayed “niche partitioning,” a system where competing individuals utilize their habitat in a way that allows them to peacefully coexist.

“This is a relatively rare way of sharing resources in nature, but it could be more common than we think in understudied marine ecosystems,” said Dr. Lear.

The shark species seemed to arrange themselves in a pecking order, with the most dominant sharks getting the most ideal hunting times and those lower on the totem pole dividing up the rest.

The research team found that bull sharks hunted mainly in the morning, tiger and sandbar sharks hunted throughout the afternoon, and blacktips, along with scalloped and great hammerhead sharks, hunted at night.

Dr. Gleiss explained, “This both reduced the competition for food, and, for some species, reduces the chances of being preyed upon by larger species.”

The research was done in collaboration with researchers at Mote Marine Laboratory and New England Aquarium.

Sharks are truly remarkable, and are vital to ocean health. Unfortunately, more than 30 percent of shark species are vulnerable, threatened, or endangered.

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