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Shy or Bold Shark? Killer Fish Have Personalities

Update Date: Oct 01, 2014 11:39 PM EDT

Some sharks are shy and others are vicious, according to researchers who discovered that the killer carnivore have personalities.

After monitoring the social interactions of groups of captive juvenile small spotted catsharks (Scyliorhinus canicula) under three different habitat types, scientists found that individual sharks actually possess social personalities. This is important because personalities can affect how individuals might interact with others of the same species.

We found that even though the sizes of the groups forming changed, socially well-connected individuals remained well connected under each new habitat. In other words, their social network positions were repeated through time and across different habitats.

"These results were driven by different social preferences (i.e social/antisocial individuals) that appeared to reflect different strategies for staying safe. Well-connected individuals formed conspicuous groups, while less social individuals tended to camouflage alone, matching their skin color with the color of the gravel substrate in the bottom of the tank," lead researcher Dr. David Jacoby, a behavioral ecologist now at the Institute of Zoology in London, said in a news release.

"We define personality as a repeatable behavior across time and contexts. What is interesting is that these behaviors differ consistently among individuals. This study shows, for the first time, that individual sharks possess social personalities."

"In the wild these small juveniles can make easy prey items for larger fish, so different anti-predator strategies are likely to have evolved. More research, however, is required to truly test the influence of predators on social personality traits in sharks. This study is the first step in that direction," he concluded.

The findings were published Oct. 1 in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

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