The Beacon

Can Sharks 'Go Rogue'?

Great white shark in South Africa. [Image via Discovery.com]

Editor's note: Happy Shark Week! All week long we'll be re-capping some highlights from Shark Week programming. Today we review "Going Rogue" and "Summer of the Shark."

Would a shark ever “go rogue” and start mercilessly attacking humans? That’s the question that last night’s episode in the Shark Week lineup sought to answer. Ever since New England beachgoers were terrorized by a rogue shark in “Jaws,” it has been a common fear that sharks, particularly great whites, are ruthless, man-eating machines.

This episode shed some light on the matter with a mix of shark attack stories and scientific studies on shark behavior. The conclusions likely elicited a collective sigh of relief across America: Sharks have never in fact gone rogue like Jaws did, but instead almost always bite a human as a result of other environmental factors at play.

In reality, the likelihood of being attacked by a shark is extremely slim. So for all the readers out there who were wondering whether it was safe to go back in the water, consider the possibility of a shark going rogue to be out of the question.

Another of last night’s Shark Week episodes, “Summer of the Shark,” followed a string of shark attacks that occurred in Australia between December 2008 and February 2009.

The episode was full of dramatic reenactments of the attacks that weren’t for the faint of heart; what’s worse, many attacks occurred close to shore and near popular beaches that many had assumed were safe. But since we know from the “Rogue Sharks” episode that sharks do not simply start attacking humans without cause, shark scientist Dr. Vic Peddemors and other marine ecologists were put on the case to try to get to the bottom of these attacks.

The scientists noted several interconnected environmental factors were likely responsible for the spike in shark attacks. Coastal waters along eastern Australia were unseasonably cold, huge schools of baitfish (favorite prey for great white sharks) were observed close to the shoreline, and most of the attacks were by juvenile great white sharks.

After putting the pieces together, Dr. Peddemors predicted that the baitfish were traveling down the cold-water corridor that hugged the coastline, and the juvenile great whites were following their prey inshore, and also happened upon some humans. Just like you did when you were young, juvenile sharks put just about anything in their mouths to determine whether it’s edible, so it’s possible that the attack victims were the unlucky targets of this taste-testing.

Fortunately, by the next summer, the coastal waters had returned to their normal temperature, and the number of shark attacks decreased significantly. The “Summer of the Shark” was a fluke.

Read more about shark attack statistics, and take action to protect sharks!

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