Do Sharks Really Have Personalities?

Media reports have called them the “tigers of the sea” and “white death,” striking potential prey with the “power of a horse.” Such descriptions are fearsome enough, but it’s the great white shark’s purported appetite for human flesh that sends chills skittering up spines. A 1916 article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, printed just after the still-famous string of shark-related deaths that year, came to a truly creepy conclusion: Those who believe that the great white’s propensity to dine on humans is real and steadily increasing “have the weight of evidence on their side.”

Thanks to the movie Jaws, the great white’s reputation as a ruthless man-eater pervades to this day. So you can’t be blamed for being slightly concerned if you took a quiz claiming to match your personality with a shark’s, put together by the Discovery Channel, and found out that you are a great white. Sure, you may indeed be “curious yet cautious” and “aggressive but also recessive;” people may be “dangerously intrigued” by you. But does your personality really match that of such a loathed creature? Can an entire species of sharks be generalized in that way?

Jean Sebastien Finger, a biologist at the Bimini Biological Field Station in the Bahamas may have answers. For a little over a year, Finger has been trying to find out whether sharks have personalities. Personality, by its very name, seems to apply only to a person, e.g., a human. But can a shark actually be shy? Social? A risk-taker? Fierce or mellow?