Study Delves Into Why Sharks Bite Humans

'We just happen to look like their food'
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 27, 2021 1:11 PM CDT
Updated Oct 31, 2021 12:10 PM CDT
Study Delves Into Why Sharks Bite Humans
   (Getty Images)

Australian researchers say a GoPro and an underwater scooter have helped deepen our understanding of why great white sharks bite humans—namely, that in some cases it really is a case of mistaken identity. Their study, published in the Journal of The Royal Society Interface, involved using that camera and scooter to get a sense of what sharks see when they look up. The scooter moved "at a typical cruising speed for predatory sharks" while placed in a large aquarium at Taronga Zoo, says Dr. Laura Ryan of Sydney's Macquarie University, reports CNN.

Rectangular floats, seals, sea lions, humans swimming different strokes, and humans paddling on surfboards in a range of sizes were filmed from below. A press release explains the team then "drew on extensive shark neuroscience data to apply filters to the video footage" and coded programs that would mimic the way a juvenile white shark would process those various objects and movements. The upshot: Swimmers and surfers, particularly those using shorter boards, look a whole lot like seals and sea lions.

Most sharks are thought to be color-blind, meaning silhouette shape is the key factor. So while colors on boards and wetsuits won't likely distinguish a human from a seal, the researchers say they are looking at ways to alter how sharks compute our own silhouettes, "including the judicious use of LED lights." As Ryan puts it to the Guardian, "They’re not these mindless killers, but we just happen to look like their food." (More discoveries stories.)

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