Shark behaviour and personality research

Half a century ago, people would have condemned us as crazy and out of our minds diving with large predatory sharks such as bull and tiger sharks. Fortunately, today we know better – all over the world shark diving has become increasingly popular, offering new opportunities not only for adventure-seeking tourists but also for scientists.
At the moment, Jan is enrolled as a PhD candidate at the French lab CRIOBE and conducting behavioural research on a population of wild adult bull sharks on Kuata Island in Fiji.

Science and Tourism hand-in-hand

Based on Kuata Island, the Barefoot Kuata Resorts operates the “Awakening Shark Dive” which was carefully designed and installed by shark expert and marine biologist Dr. Thomas Vignaud. Instead of an action-driven tourist spectacle, the ambition was to create a safe, conservative and educational dive that helps fight the negative image of sharks and offers an alternative and sustainable income for local communities.

Since the beginning, the resort has worked very closely with scientists and has been a generous host. For the research, we will be living on the island for around 8-10 months a year and collect as much data as possible and continue the work started by Thomas.

Sharks and their personalities

Do sharks actually have “personalities”? This is one of the main questions we seek to answer. If you have been diving with sharks before, your answer will most likely be “Yes, of course!”. Even inexperienced divers can often observe that some sharks visiting our dive site seem to be more shy, others love to come close and take a good look at you. But answering this question is actually a little more complicated – to classify as a personality, these “characteristics” would need to be relatively stable over time and also across different situations. So the question would be more like: “Are the bold ones always the bold ones, no matter the situation and time? And what about the shy ones”. Joining the resort’s bull shark dive on a daily basis provides us with a massive amount of data and information that will help us to answer this and many other questions.

Why do personalities matter?

Well, there are many reasons why the personalities of animals matter. However, we are mostly interested in this topic from a conservation point.

Think about the number of question that comes up when people talk about sharks: “Why do they attack humans?” While there is arguably no easy answer to this question, personality may play an important role when it comes to human-shark interactions. Exploring us as a potential food source is quite a risky thing for a shark to do, at least from their point of view. Many sharks may not have it “in them” to engage in something like this, they simply do not possess the needed “risk-taking” characteristics. Still, these things are not considered when managing sharks and in many places, these animals are culled blindly after (and even without) incidents.

Capacity building and global awareness

Besides our scientific work, we have the amazing opportunity to make science and marine biology available for everyone on the island – from tourists to locals! To us, this part of the work is at least as important as the science behind it. Many visitors never had any encounters with sharks beforehand and seeing them fall in love with these amazing creatures is one of the most beneficial parts of what we do. Here in Kuata, we not only work together with tourists but also with the locals. Nearly the complete dive team and resort team is Fijian and we closely work together to continuously improve the management of these animals (and marine resources in general).

credits: Kevin Peyrusse

Scroll to Top