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The Social Networks of Sharks

We all know that social networks can be used to study friendships, rivalries, and other interactions between people, but this type of analysis has now been extended to sharks. Researchers at The Fish Lab at Macquarie used acoustic telemetry, a technique that allows them to remotely track the whereabouts of individual sharks using tags that communicate with a receiver, to determine which sharks interacted with each other, as well as how often these interactions took place. From this data, they were able to construct a social network that led to interesting findings about the social behaviors of sharks. For instance, sharks prefer to hang out with other sharks of the same sex and size, and form long lasting connections to other sharks in their network.

The researchers analyzed the shark social network in a similar way to how we analyzed similar networks during lecture. To come to the above conclusions, they looked at small subsets of the network at a time. As with the global social network, the full graph can be too large and crowded to be able to discern any meaning from most of its clusters. Zooming in on one node of the graph, on the other hand, can give us meaningful insight into the social interactions of that individual and that of his or her friends. The graph of the shark social network likely consisted of many clusters of tight-knit groups of nodes with some connections between them. These clusters represent groups of similar sharks who mutually prefer each other. Sharks form long-lasting preferences, so by the strong triadic closure principle, sharks of a similar sex and size with mutual friends are likely to know each other, which leads to the formation of tight knit clusters. This article is a great example of the idea that all social networks (regardless of species) have the same principles behind them.


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