Among surfers, there’s a commonly held belief that shark attacks are mostly a case of mistaken identity. The apex predators take a bite out of swimmers because they resemble seals and sea lions—especially when they’re on a surfboard. New video footage suggests this may indeed be the case.
Great whites and other sharks hunt from below, relying on the contrast of their prey backlit by the light above. As the video shows, the similarities between a seal and surfer from this angle are significant, especially to a shark.
But the video doesn’t represent other details about how great whites see the world: Like many sharks that bite people, the animals view their surroundings in fewer “frames” per second compared with humans. Their color perception is also mostly limited to shades of blues and greens, and they cannot resolve shapes as accurately as we do.
The finding, reported today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, is certainly not great news for surfers. But the researchers also point out that sharks have an acute sense of smell and an ability to detect vibrations through the water, which may explain why shark attacks remain extremely uncommon despite the visual similarities between humans and their preferred prey. After all, compared with a seal, a human is still a scrawny and bony meal with far less calories … not to mention how it must feel to swallow a chunk of surfboard.
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