Shark Week 2020 | 'Great White Double Trouble': Are sharks in west coast Australia deadlier than east coast ones?

Shark Week 2020 | 'Great White Double Trouble': Are sharks in west coast Australia deadlier than east coast ones?
Great White shark (Getty Images)

Sharks are undoubtedly some of the most feared predators in the ocean and among them, the great white shark is certainly believed to be the deadliest — though scientists believe bull sharks may be more deadly seeing as they can swim in both freshwater and saltwater because they can regulate how much salt their body processes.

The great white shark was specially made famous after Steven Spielberg's 'Jaws' released in 1975 prompting many people to hunt great white sharks for fun. However, the great white shark is also quite misunderstood. While there are attacks on humans reported, it is suggested that sharks who attack humans actually think they are attacking other marine animals, like sea lions. A human body does not have the fat content needed to power a shark and therefore, is a pretty useless meal.

Discovery's Shark Week programming is helping to raise awareness about sharks through multiple specials. The latest special, 'Great White Double Trouble' looks at the different great white shark populations in Australia. Eons ago, when the landmass of the Australian continent was connected to the island of Tasmania, the sharks of the east coast and west coast were separated. However, even after sea levels rose and Tasmania and the Australian continent were separated by a body of water, the east coast and west coast great white shark populations remained diverse and did not mingle with each other. 

Today, there are more accidental shark attacks on humans in the west coast than the east coast. In 'Great White Double Trouble', shark experts, Dr Riley Elliot, Dr Paul DeGelder, and Dr Paul Butcher studied different aspects of the sharks on both coasts -- the ones on the west coast being studied are near Neptune Island and the ones near east coast being studied are near Stewart Island. 

To understand why west coast shark attacks are more fatal than the east coast ones, the scientists decided on three criteria to differentiate between the sharks -- size, bite force, and hunting behavior. In both size and bite force, the scientists noted that there is not much difference when it came to the two populations of the sharks. They then narrowed it down to whether the hunting behavior might explain the higher fatalities on the west coast -- nearly six times that of those on the east coast.

One difference on the east coast is that sharks notice adult and juvenile sharks in one place. Dr Elliot even noted that it is not often that male and female great white sharks are seen in one place and the scientists deduced that they may be in the midst of a mating ground, which is usually elusive. They also find that the adult great white sharks on the east coast are just as aggressive as the great white sharks on the west coast. The scientists did notice that the hunting behaviors of adult great whites and sub-adult great whites are different, with the adults being more mature and therefore deadlier than sub-adults. The scientists say the difference in fatalities may come down to this: the sub-adult sharks are more likely to bite, but less likely to kill.

'Great White Double Trouble' aired on Discovery Channel on August 12 at 10/9c. A repeat presentation will air on August 13 at 2 am ET.

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