Baby white sharks learn to hunt on the fly as they grow in size. Although puppies as young as a few months old consume fish and other tiny fry, larger juveniles are now large enough to take on seals and other meatier prey.
It may seem simple to recognize a blubbery seal amid the ocean’s swells. Young white sharks, on the other hand, have less-than-perfect vision and are likely colorblind, causing the water to seem in shades of grey to them. As a result, it’s hard to blame a juvenile white shark for nibbling on an appetizingly dark oval in the sky above them.
Several decades have passed since scientists first proposed the hypothesis of “mistaken identification” as a possible explanation for unprovoked shark attacks on humans, which are very unusual events. This notion is put to the test in an article that was published on Wednesday in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. The researchers discovered that there is no significant difference between a plump sea lion, a person paddling on a surfboard, or even an individual paddling on their own in their simulations of how a juvenile white shark perceives the world, supporting the theory that sharks make mistakes from time to time.
The report, according to Charles Bangley, a marine biologist at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia who was not involved with the research, confirms common sense advice for anybody seeking to avoid being attacked by a shark: if you see a shark, get away from it. Swimming in calm, clean water away from seals and other prey is the best strategy.
“It was a well-executed research,” said Catherine Macdonald, a professor at the University of Miami and co-founder of the marine science programmed Field School.
Baby white sharks are blissfully oblivious of the negative reputation they have acquired as a result of their birth. According to Laura Ryan, a neurobiologist at Macquarie University in Australia and one of the paper’s authors, “White sharks have been portrayed as these mindless murderers.” However, she thinks that through better knowing their society, they will begin to be regarded “in a different light.”
White sharks, along with bull sharks and tiger sharks, are responsible for the majority of human injuries and fatal bites, the majority of which occur in surfers and divers. And the youngsters, which are between eight and ten feet in length, tend to be the most common biters. The fact that white sharks frequently release a person after the initial bite may indicate that they do not aggressively target people as prey as previously thought.
However, even if the mistaken identity hypothesis made logical sense, it would seem to be readily disproved on the basis of our own visual perception: the ordinary sighted person would be able to discern between the silhouettes of a surfer and a seal swimming side by side.
Recent experiments on shark vision have increased scientists’ knowledge of how the cartilaginous predators see their environment: most likely in grayscale with a limited capacity to detect fine detail, according to the findings. Dr. Ryan suggests that you picture having your eye test underwater sans goggles in order to attempt to view the world through the eyes of a shark – everything will be a bit less crisp. Therefore, the visual signals that a hunting shark most depends on are most likely motion and brightness contrast in order to find food.
Dr. Macdonald believes that the findings of the research imply that juvenile sharks must be using alternative strategies to discern between humans and prey. He also notes that the number of people in the water has grown dramatically in recent years without a commensurate increase in bites.