Great white sharks have a bad reputation because they are particularly hungry for humans. Largely thanks to Bruce from Jaws and other ferocious fictional creatures inspired by the species. But a new study in the Royal Society Interface Journal says experimental evidence indicates great whites bite people by accident because gnarled sharks take them for usual prey. It makes us think that if someone invented shark glasses, corrective lenses could literally save lives. (Putting on the glasses would probably cost lives, it’s true.)
Boing boing reported on the study, which describes how great whites likely bite people because of “mistaken identity” issues. The authors of the article note that while shark bites are rare, of course they do occur enough to cause public concern. In this case, the researchers wanted to test the theory of mistaken identity in great white sharks. To do this, they compared video footage of seals, people swimming, and people paddle boarding, all from a tall white perspective below.
“We have found that surfers, swimmers and pinnipeds [seals and sea-lions] on the ocean surface will look like a white shark looking down from below because these sharks cannot see fine details or colors, ”said Dr. Laura Ryan, lead author of the study in A press release. “Surfers are the group most at risk for fatal shark bites, especially by young white sharks,” the researcher noted.
Researchers compared different images to understand what great whites see when they look at humans and / or pinnipeds. These included: underwater visual images of seal sharks and sea lions swimming; movable rectangular floats; humans swimming with different types of swimming; and humans on surfboards of different sizes. The researchers then processed the images to reflect how a shark’s retina would detect visual movements and form cues from the videos.
After these steps, the researchers created computer models to simulate how young great whites would process images. (Juveniles have worse eyesight than adults.) In these cases, at least, researchers say great whites just can’t distinguish between people and pinnipeds. Which makes us feel like we should be a lot more forgiving when they bite people. Even if the sharks wore the most massive nerd glasses ever, we still wouldn’t go near any of them.