Many people perceive the white shark as a solitary and fearsome predator, focused solely on its own survival and food. However, recent research conducted by scientists at Ocearch, an organization dedicated to studying sharks and marine life, suggests that white sharks may actually have companionship among their own kind. Two male white sharks, named Simon and Jekyll, have been documented traveling together since December of last year, when they were fitted with satellite tags off the coast of Georgia.
This unique relationship between Simon and Jekyll has astounded the researchers at Ocearch. Bob Hueter, the chief scientist at Ocearch, expressed his surprise in a video posted on the organization’s Facebook page. The two sharks have been swimming “together in tandem” for more than 4,000 miles along the Atlantic Coast, reaching as far as the Gulf of St. Lawrence, south of Quebec, where they were last detected in late July. Both sharks were tagged within a few days of each other in December, at a length of approximately nine feet, and were not yet of mating age.
To further investigate the relationship between Simon and Jekyll, scientists at Ocearch are currently analyzing blood samples collected from the sharks in December. The results of this analysis could shed light on whether the two sharks are siblings or half-siblings. These findings could challenge existing perceptions about white shark migration patterns and relationships, potentially leading to new strategies for shark conservation.
White sharks have long been regarded with fear and awe, especially since the release of Peter Benchley’s novel “Jaws” and its subsequent film adaptation. However, as overfishing threatens the survival of sharks, researchers are advocating for a shift in perspective that views sharks as creatures in need of protection, rather than as monsters. The loss of sharks, as apex predators, could disrupt marine ecosystems and endanger the food security of numerous countries.
The discoveries made by Ocearch regarding the social behavior of white sharks contribute to a growing body of research challenging the notion that these creatures are antisocial. Yannis Papastamatiou, an ecologist at Florida International University, explains that some shark species can form strong social bonds and groups. However, these bonds may differ from those seen in humans, serving purposes such as mating, finding food, or defending against predators like killer whales.
In a study conducted in the Pacific Ocean in 2020, Papastamatiou and his team observed that gray reef sharks tend to remain within the same social group for up to four years. He also witnessed white sharks spending hours together at specific gathering sites. Simon and Jekyll’s companionship adds another dimension to this understanding, as they potentially demonstrate that white sharks may travel together to and from these sites. It is possible that there are more friends among white sharks that have not yet been tagged.
Since 2012, Ocearch researchers have tagged 92 white sharks to study their migration and mating patterns, but Simon and Jekyll are the only ones who have been observed moving in such close proximity. Hueter believes that these two sharks have the potential to make a significant impact in the field of shark conservation. The discovery humanizes their existence, reminding us that they have families and relationships just like us. Hueter emphasizes the importance of preserving and protecting sharks for the balance of life in the ocean.