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Shark Besties? Great White Sharks Sometimes Travel in Pairs, So Look Out
Even flesh-eating monsters need buds.
Disaster films are a dime a dozen and human vs. animal stories are a centuries-long tradition, but in 2013 the two genres came together for a story the likes of which had never been seen. Iconic SYFY original film Sharknado starts with a megastorm that pushes the Pacific into downtown L.A. Then a waterspout (basically a tornado that forms over water) picks up a group of white sharks all swimming together and turns them into a whirling mass of fins and teeth.
In real life, white sharks are often thought of as solitary creatures, quietly patrolling the seas and consuming everything in their path, but recent research suggests they might actually travel in groups.
The Surprising Discovery of Great White Best Friends
Researchers from Ocearch have tagged 92 white sharks with location trackers over the last decade. They’re monitoring the shark’s movements to learn more about their migration patterns and, hopefully, their behavior.
In December 2022, Ocearch scientists picked up two juvenile white sharks, took blood samples, fitted them with tracking tags, and released them back into the water. The two sharks were captured and tagged a few days apart in relatively the same location. Researchers expected them to go off in their own directions like every other shark before them but that didn’t happen. Instead, they’ve been traveling together ever since they were tagged.
The sharks, affectionately called Simon and Jekyll, have covered more than 4,000 miles together, trailing up the Atlantic coast to a point near Quebec, in July. Researchers are now testing the blood samples they retrieved when the sharks were tagged, to find out if they are biologically related. Whatever the answer, the pairing reveals new information about the social structures of sharks.
It’s unclear precisely why these two sharks are swimming the high seas using the buddy system, but it’s possible having a wingman is beneficial for fending off competitors or predators, capturing prey, and mating. It’s also possible the watery convoy has other members, untagged sharks who are also swimming alongside Simon and Jekyll.
That said, of the 92 sharks Ocearch researchers have tagged since 2012, only these two appear to be swimming together. At the moment, we don’t know if Simon and Jekyll are an anomaly or representative of a wider white shark friendship phenomenon. But their existence and their fellowship suggest that sharks have inner lives which are richer than we imagine, and which don’t revolve entirely around swallowing things alive.
Whether you’re a person or a shark, life is better with friends. And now we know a sharknado might actually be possible. All Simon and Jekyll need is a fortuitously placed waterspout and the guts to take us on.