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The hunting strategy of white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) near a seal colony


The degree to which white sharks, Carcharodon carcharias, are social while hunting is unclear. Our aim was to describe the behavior and interactions among white sharks hunting seals near a seal colony. We attached ultrasonic beacons to five adult white sharks, 4.5–5.2 m long, and recorded their movements and behavior toward each other over a 15-day period in October 1997 at Año Nuevo Island, California. This site is home to colonies of four species of seals and sea lions. Two additional sharks, females 5.5 and 4.7 m in length, were later tracked intensively during periods of 12 and 3 days during October 1998 and November 1999, respectively. We recorded stomach temperature (indicative of feeding on warm-bodied seals) and swimming depths from the 5.5-m female, swimming speed and depth from the 4.7-m female. We monitored the movements and behavior of these sharks using an array of sonobuoys moored near the island; the receptive field measured 1 km2. Our principal findings were: (1) the sharks spent a mean time of 39.5% of each day patrolling within the receptive field; (2) no shark ever moved far out of it; (3) the sharks spent an equal amount of time and activity in the receptive field at all times of the day, daytime, twilight, and nighttime; (4) movements with respect to the island rookery were most often back and forth parallel to the shoreline, (5) tracks of three sharks, tagged at the same time and place, overlapped more often than those of the other two sharks; and (6) some sharks patrolled certain areas in the field preferentially, but there was no conclusive evidence that they defended these areas as territories. Feeding appeared to be infrequent: only two likely feeding bouts occurred during a cumulative 78-day/shark period that individuals were monitored at Año Nuevo Island. The behavior and movements of the sharks were consistent with a hunting strategy, in which individuals search for prey independently but, at the same time, remain close enough to each other to “sense” and exploit a kill by any one of them by joining in on the kill to feed.

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Received: 21 August 2000 / Accepted: 25 October 2000

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Klimley, A., Le Boeuf, B., Cantara, K. et al. The hunting strategy of white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) near a seal colony. Marine Biology 138, 617–636 (2001).

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  • Receptive Field
  • Swimming Speed
  • White Shark
  • Hunting Strategy
  • Stomach Temperature