Five Reasons Why Sharks Are Intelligent Creatures

Sharks are carnivorous hunters known for their fins, huge bodies and numerous sharp razor teeth. They are at the top of the marine food chain and have stayed king of the oceans not because of the way they attack their prey but because of their unique group dynamics that makes them great predators.

In celebration of one of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, here are five reasons why sharks are among the ocean’s most intelligent creatures:


Great white sharks have learned to use different hunting strategies for different preys. At Mexico’s Guadalupe Island, white sharks have learned to attack giant elephant seals from behind to avoid their sharp canines and to retreat while their prey bleeds out to avoid a struggle. When attacking smaller harbor seals, however, sharks simply pluck them from the surface and drag them down until they suffocate.


Great whites do not automatically know how to hunt seals; they have to learn how to do it. At South Africa’s Dyer Island, for instance, young great whites are often seen clumsily attacking their prey and usually missing. After years of practice, they eventually “graduate” to hunting at nearby Seal Island, where old veterans like Colossus have a 48% success rate when attacking seals at the surface. Never giving up, sharks learn through trial and error.


Because competition for prey can be fierce, white sharks have figured out a clever social ranking system to avoid brutal fighting. They have learned to display specific behaviors like circling, fin flapping and tail thrashing to establish dominance or contest kills without resorting to violence.


Sharks commonly approach divers and boats to investigate in a non-threatening way. They also take test bites of potential prey to get a better sense of what they are; in fact, most shark attacks are simply test bites. Sharks may also play. Porbeagle sharks have been spotted seemingly playing with kelp and driftwood, and great whites have been observed tossing live seals repeatedly into the air.

While we think of sharks as solitary creatures, they do occasionally band together. Seven gill sharks work together to encircle their prey; one will play decoy while another attacks from behind. Whale biologist Peter Best reported seeing a group of white sharks working together to move the carcass of a beached whale into deeper water so that they could feed on it more easily, suggesting that they also understand the basics of flotation.

Discovery Channel’s Shark Week will feature an awesome lineup of jaw-dropping episodes this 23-29 July at 8:10 pm! Don’t miss it!

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