Researchers used methods copied from criminology to show great whites pick their targets in a highly focused fashion. Prolific killers such as Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, behave in much the same way.
The scientists adapted geographic profiling, a mathematical technique used to track down serial criminals, to investigate the hunting habits of great whites. They observed the location of 340 shark attacks and used the data to locate the sharks’ “anchor points”.
In criminal investigations, a series of linked crimes – usually murder, rape or arson – is used to determine the rough location of the perpetrator’s “anchor point”. Most often this is a home or place of work.
Serial killers or rapists tend to operate within a confined area around the anchor point, so knowing its location allows police to avoid being swamped with suspects and prioritise those who live or work in certain areas. The shark scientists linked the “crimes” of great whites off the South African coast – attacks on seals – and found that the sharks had a well defined search base. Their “anchor point” tended to be 100 metres seaward of where the seals accessed and left the island where they lived.
Smaller, younger, sharks exhibited more dispersed search patterns and were less successful hunters.
The research, led by Dr Neil Hammerschlag, from the University of Miami in the US, is reported in the Journal of Zoology, published by the Zoological Society of London.