Monday, 6 July 2015

Sharks Enjoy Divers as Divers Enjoy Sharks!

Sharks are interested in others, and their spontaneous gestures toward divers show their curiosity toward other members of their submarine community, including divers who show interest in them. The interest is returned.

Thus it is possible through photos to capture the eye to eye gaze of these mysterious creatures of the deep, when for just few moments of their day, they meet us.
Recognition of others as individuals has long been established in fish and sharks, as in other social species. As well as knowing others, sharks demonstrate by their actions that they recognize themselves as being separate from others and observable. To this degree they are self aware.

The photo shows one of my shark companions coming to greet me when she found me in the lagoon. She looks at me with first one eye and then the other as she approaches with her gently undulating movement.


She nearly touches my face with hers, then turns to swim away at an angle over my shoulder.
I gave her a treat after she had followed me for a long time, and snapped a photo as she accelerated away shaking her scrap. If you look closely, you can see her right eye looking back at me. Sharks, like horses, can look straight behind them as well as in front due to their serpentine motion. 

This tiger shark had come over to look at me and when she left, she turned and glanced at me behind her, with one eye after another.
Here a tiger shark had come to see me, then swam away and suddenly turned back..
 She swam straight back to me

and came to look at me again. 

This curiosity seemed to be associated with the shark's interest in the other large animals in the region. Her focus on my eyes is typical of all of the close approaches of this sort by sharks that I have witnessed.

I have often come across statements by people, especially fishermen, who were approached by a shark in this way, who claimed that the shark was "attacking," or "would have attacked" had the shark not been shot or blown up with a power head, or something like that. But the real reason for these close approaches is the natural, social curiosity of this intelligent animal.

Bull sharks will come for a friendly look, too.

So will Caribbean reef sharks.
And lemon sharks.
If so many different species of shark will do this, the behaviour pattern is likely wide-spread among them. Curiosity that is not based on a biological need is a sign of intelligence, and in this case is apparently linked to a wish to socialize.

A communication passes through a shared gaze in eye contact, and it seems important to sharks,  given this common behaviour with divers, as well as to us mammals.
The book I wrote about my studies, The Shark Sessions, describes the natural behaviour of sharks in detail.
(c) Ila France Porcher 2015




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