How Intelligent are Great White Sharks?

For years we have studied Great White Shark Intelligence.

Great white sharks have existed on our planet for millions of years, evolving and adapting to their way of life. White sharks live in particular waters for a reason- they have found the ideal locations where they are best able to find food and take advantage of their prey’s weaknesses. It is no coincidence that their migratory patterns cover thousands of miles as they move from one place to another as the weather and seasons changes over the year.

great white sharks intelligence
Great White Sharks intelligence @David Serradell

Is it the great white sharks intelligence that has allowed this prehistoric species to survive for millions of years?

As with any species, intelligence grows with experience. While a juvenile white shark might be quick to bite first, a bigger adult tends to use their brain and conserve energy by strategically planning their moves. In fact, multiple adults, white sharks have been observed swimming around a bait ball, patiently waiting to find a glitch and trap it easily.

Great whites are close to the perfect ocean predator. They are capable of timing their strikes down to the second to hunt a bait ball or seal. Understanding time and space in the surrounding environment allows them to identify the perfect moment to expend their energy chasing food, taking into account that less than 50% of attempts are successful.

As Nautilus wranglers at the stern of the boat work to lure them towards the bait, we have the perfect opportunity to study their strategies. They seem to be capable of identifying a wrangler’s weaknesses and enacting a strategy, capitalizing on the exact moment when a wrangler takes his eyes off the bait. They understand the influence of the sun on visibility when the sun’s reflection on the water’s surface makes it difficult to see them approaching from the depths. They are always a step ahead, evaluating how tense or loose the wrangler line appears. White sharks are often observed swimming around the bait for a long time to study the situation and the wrangler before taking action.

great white shark intelligence

Could you imagine an 18-foot long white shark weighing more than 1500 kg trying to chase after a 5-foot fur seal? Well, actually they are quite smart to avoid a chase altogether and instead seek to hunt them by surprise. If you have ever seen a documentary on how white sharks breach to catch an unsuspecting seal from below, we can understand why they take this approach. Seals are much smaller and more agile, and white sharks know that. The white shark’s lack of quick movements has to be compensated with the surprise factor.

Would there more white shark incidents if they were less intelligent?

Well, we can take a look at the countries where there have been more frequent incidents with this king of sharks such as Australia, South Africa and the United States. Incidents with great white sharks (both provoked and unprovoked) have seen a minimal increase from 1900 to the present day.

At the same time, great white shark populations have been reduced dramatically in those countries, and all over the world. Let’s take all of that into account to analyze the real meaning with the following facts:

  • From 1900 to the present, shark incidents have increased only minimally.
  • World population has undergone an almost exponential increase over the past 120 years.
  • Beach tourism has increased.
  • White sharks have been reduced drastically, though it has been recovering recently. They are rated as a vulnerable species.
  • Surfing population has become massive in these countries but all over the world.
  • Almost half of all incidents take place on the surface.

So, as white sharks have been in the oceans for millions of years before the existence of humans, they are able to recognize their usual prey and leave humans off their menu. Despite the increase in surfers, swimmers, divers in the water, the number of great white shark incidents remain quite the same.

Divemaster Martin Ferruggiaro

By Nautilus Crew

Recent blogs and dive reports from the crew onboard the Nautilus Liveaboard's vessels.

6 replies on “How Intelligent are Great White Sharks?”

Very interesting article about an animal that was made to gain a bad name. The article shows that it is written by a team of people who know and have experience. Thanks for sharing.

I think sharks are alot smarter then people give them credit for. They also say they only attack humans by mistake but at which point is it a mistake the first bite or the second third or is it when it consumes the body entirely that it realises its mistake lol. No these sharks are smart enough to know we are different to seals they had millions of years to observe their environment I’m not saying we should worry more about sharks then coconuts falling but just accept these are extremely clever creatures and like alligators they will attack if they are hungry or if they feel like it

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