Do sharks love?

Do sharks love? Do they whisper sweet nothings into each others ears? These questions have long been up for debate.

To answer the question we first have to answer another question. What is love? To answer, I look to Ancient Greece for wisdom. Ancient Greek philosophers have written about 4 types of love: kinship or familiarity (in Greek, storge), friendship (philia), romantic desire(eros), and self-emptying or unconditional love (agape).

Shark Kinship

Sharks generally do not care for their young. As soon as a pup is born, it is on it’s own, forced onto the cold, lonely road we call life. Great hammerhead sharks, among others, have even been reported devouring their young. Port Jackson sharks are the only sharks that have displayed any kind of care for their young and have been seen carrying eggs in their mouth for safe-keeping.  Sharks generally do not care about their kids but they also, really, really, don’t care for their siblings. In fact sharks have been often report committing fratricide and murdering their siblings in the womb.  

Shark Friendship

Although sharks tend to be depicted as lone predators, they actually are very social creatures. New research suggests that sharks form complex social structures in which a shark might belong to subgroup which are part of a larger population. It appears that sharks form these bonds for many reasons and one might be, to make them more resilient as groups with members that have been previously captured were observed as more difficult to catch. Although it is impossible to say the feelings that the sharks might be having, it appears to be the kind of love found in a friendship, or at least an affinity towards each other.

Shark Romance

Enter the Bonnethead, a small type of hammerhead which is very abundant in the water around America. The Bonnethead happens to be the only shark that displays sexual dimorphism in the head. Which means that the shape of male bonnetheads head is different than that of a female.  While this doesn’t suggest sharks love, it can be said that the bonnethead developed sexual dimorphism through sexual selection. If there is a shark that loves, I would expect it to have some form of sexual dimorphism.

It has recently been found that bonnetheads tend be genetically monogamous. This means the a bonnethead female typically only produces offspring fathered by one male. Although it is worth noting that while a bonnethead usually only has one male that sires their children, a bonnethead shark will typically still have multiple partners. In a study involving 22 litters of bonnethead sharks, it was found that over 80% were sired by the same father. Since the bonnethead is the only shark that we know of that is somewhat monogamous, the bonnethead would be our best chance of seeing love. However this is the only, love-like phenomenon we have seen in the bonnethead.

Sharks do make love to each other, but in a very violent, and dangerous way. When the male mounts the female he usually bites his partner and leaves wounds on the female. Female sharks have even adapted and developed extra thick skin in area likely to be hurt by a lover. It doesn’t really seem like love, more like lust.

Shark Unconditional Love

Do sharks exhibit the most selfless type of love, unconditional love. No, no they don’t. If we were to say sharks exhibit selfless love, we would have to observe a shark doing something that benefits another shark but harms the shark committing the act. I think we can safely say that has never been observed.

So do sharks love?

I would have to cautiously say yes. There is not much evidence of sharks being in love with a sexual partner, they don’t appear to be loving towards their children or family, but it seems like some kind of love exists between sharks who are friends. Maybe friend-love is all the love a shark needs.

 

 

  1. Chapman, D. D., Prodöhl, P. A., Gelsleichter, J., Manire, C. A. and Shivji, M. S. (2004), Predominance of genetic monogamy by females in a hammerhead shark, Sphyrna tiburo: implications for shark conservation. Molecular Ecology, 13: 1965–1974. doi:10.1111/j.1365-294X.2004.02178.x

 

  1. 2. https://phys.org/news/2017-03-smart-sharks-robust-social-networks.html