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Monday, January 21, 2013

Is The Evolution Of Sharks Mixed Up Because Of Neoprene?

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Many people believe that sharks mistake a human with a black wetsuit.

But we have never bought into that opinion (fact?). It just does not make any evolutionary sense to us. We think sharks are way too intelligent and selective to make that assumed mistake.

Because sharks have been around the oceans for the past 400 million years.

They have thrived 200 million years earlier than the dinosaurs and nearly 400 million years before the first hominids - they are evolutionary marvels. They have what it takes to exist in a world where many species have come and gone. But as the apex predator in the oceans, the sharks have not only survived, but thrived with their remarkable biological characteristics and well-developed hunting and eating abilities. For 400 million years, sharks know what is what in the ocean by its honed senses.

But then throw in humans and wetsuits into the mix, and the shark's senses must be heightened as it studies the new phenomena of mankind in the ocean. This new commercial development of neoprene is certainly not on the shark's radar at any level. But to think that sharks are confused between seals and a human with a black wetsuit is to not give sharks' senses enough credit. Sharks did not evolve and exist for 400 million years by making mistakes in its hunting strategies and choices.

E.O. Wilson, the famous sociobiologist, said about humans, "We are not afraid of predators, we’re transfixed by them, prone to weave stories and fables and chatter endlessly about them, because fascination creates preparedness, and preparedness, survival. In a deeply tribal way, we love our monsters."

But perhaps it seems by doubting - or dumbing down - the shark's complex hunting behavior - humans can satisfy their need to feel superior. After all these milleania, shark's confusion between a seal and a triathlete in a wetsuit or a surfer with neoprene is not a natural conclusion to us. Their abilities are much more profound and developed, we think. Sharks, according to scientists who track and study them, spend not only a great deal of time migrating from point to point, but also spending time simply swimming around and hanging out swimming in circles (see video below by Save Our Seas of the whereabouts of a Great White Shark in False Bay over a 24-hour period).

We would think that sharks might be curious as to what a human might be or might taste like to a shark, but we do not imagine that sharks mistake a human for a seal, whether or not the human is attired in black neoprene. Sharks have a profound understanding of what seals do, how they smell, how they swim, and where they are. Here is a video captured of the interaction between a shark and seal. We can imagine any human moving similarly to that frightened seal.

People believe sharks are attracted by splashing and vibrations in the water that can lead to shark encounters. But what animal or fish in the oceans resemble the highly inefficient movement of humans in the water? The way seals or other shark prey move in the water is a far cry from even the most efficient freestyler among homo sapiens.

Are sharks are sometimes described as wild animals? But wild occasionally has an implication of being unsophisticated. But that is not the case with sharks. Sharks can identify any prey and can do it as well as any other creature in the ocean. They can sense humans in wetsuits via their sense of smell, sight, and its bioelectrical facilities. For the shark, a denizen of the ocean that has evolved over 400 million years, a human is a new creature. Sharks do not often run into humans, at least relative to all the other creatures it encounters in the course of its natural life in the oceans.

So while sharks may be curious, and may take an exploratory bite every now and then among its innumerable encounters with humans, we find it illogical and implausible to think a shark cannot distinguish between a human and its other prey - black neoprene or not.

But perhaps this film and marine biologists have the answer to these questions: (1) Do sharks indeed mistake humans in wetsuits for seals?, and (2) If there is human blood in the water, does a shark mistake this blood for the blood of its natural prey? Similar to human smelling senses that are developed to trigger hunger when a delicious meal is cooking, we wonder if human blood truly triggers hunger and a need to initiate a feeding frenzy among sharks.

Our belief is that the answers to these questions is no.

Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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