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Geographic profiling applied to track hunting patterns of white sharks in South Africa
Date:6/22/2009

VIRGINIA KEY, Fla. -- Predation is one of the most fundamental and fascinating interactions in nature, and sharks are some of the fiercest predators on Earth. However, their hunting pattern is difficult to study because it is rarely observed in the wild. As a result, shark predatory behavior has remained much of a mystery. Now, researchers from the United States and Canada are using geographic profiling -- a criminal investigation tool used to track a connected series of crimes and locate where serial criminals live -- to examine the hunting patterns of white sharks in South Africa.

Using this tool, scientists looked at the predatory interactions between white sharks and Cape fur seals at Seal Island in False Bay, South Africa. They found that sharks possess a well-defined anchor point or search base for hunting, but not where the chances of prey interception were greatest. Instead the attacks seemed to take place at strategic locations that could offer a balance of prey detection, capture rates, and inter-shark competition. "The study expands our knowledge of how large predators hunt and offers a new scientific reference for studying other predator-prey systems," explained Neil Hammerschlag, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and co-principal investigator of the study.

"Sharks are apex predators, so studies of shark hunting behavior are important for understanding their ecology and role in structuring marine communities," said Hammerschlag. "Our need for more knowledge of these fascinating animals has become critical because of recent drastic declines in their populations globally."

In an awesome display of power and acrobatic prowess, white sharks attack prey with a sudden vertical rush that propels them out of the water. "They hunt solitary juvenile Cape fur seals when light levels are low, stalking them from near the ocean floor to remain undetected, before launching a
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Contact: Barbra Gonzalez
barbgo@rsmas.miami.edu
305-421-4704
University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science
Source:Eurekalert  

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