Since the release of "Jaws" almost 40 years ago, sharks have had to deal with more than their fair share of public image problems. But the archetypical shark is no mindless, man-hunting predator.
A new study of small spotted catsharks highlights how, far from a horde of aggressive fish, sharks are social animals with individual personalities. (And the average American is more likely to die from choking on anything from a hot dog to a marshmallow than a shark attack.)
"Personality traits have never been determined in sharks before," David Jacoby, a shark expert at Institute of Zoology in London, U.K., and a recent author of the report, says to The Dodo. "We were keen to understand the mechanisms behind their social behavior."
Catsharks are a bottom-dwelling species, fond of spending the day dog-piled atop one another on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, before venturing out to hunt at night.
But who joins the catshark cluster depends on their personality type, Jacoby and his colleagues discovered through observations of 100 captive juvenile sharks. Monitoring the fish in groups of 10, the biologists found that certain sharks showed gregarious inclinations, and were much more likely to rest in a "conspicuous" heap. Yet other sharks preferred solitude, frequently camouflaging their skin to blend in with the habitat bottom, the scientists write in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.