Lemon sharks: familiar friends?

  • Sharks
Years funded
  • 2014
  • Archived
Project types
  • Education
  • Research

Did you know that cows have best friends? It seems that lemon sharks could too. Bryan’s research showed than these animals prefer to spend time with sharks they know, rather than those they have never met before.

Lemon sharks: familiar friends?

Bryan Keller

Project leader
About the project leader

I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, part of the Sonoran Desert. People often ask how a kid from the desert could become so interested in the ocean and quite frankly, it wouldn’t have been possible without my parents. I remember taking many trips to California to visit beaches and aquariums, visits that crafted my appreciation for marine life. The animals we saw were all mesmerisingly beautiful, but I was far more intrigued by the mystery that surrounded them. Specifically, I remember watching a pufferfish swimming by itself in a fish tank and I could have sworn it was watching me...

PROJECT LOCATION : Bimini, The Bahamas
Project details

Familiarity in lemon sharks Negaprion brevirostris: reshaping societal views of a keystone taxonomic group

Key objective

To determine the social preferences of the lemon shark, which is a model species. This information will be used to dispel myths about sharks and to show the public that sharks are capable of complex behaviours. Additionally, I will teach shark conservation to hundreds of individuals in Bimini and South Carolina schools.

Why is this important

If society is aware that sharks are not man-eaters and they are critical for ocean health, then endangered shark populations have a chance at recovery. My proposal is to blend research and conservation, both of which will be disseminated through teaching. My results will be effective in conserving sharks because I will be teaching the people who will be directly responsible for protecting these species in future – our youth.


Group living is common across the animal kingdom. The benefits of this lifestyle include a reduction in predation, improved ability to locate of food, and the facilitation of communication and courtship. Group living can be separated into two types: aggregations and social groupings. An aggregation occurs when groups of individuals are drawn together by a limited, fitness-increasing resource. Social grouping is different in that social interaction occurs between individuals with selection of partners occurring. In sharks, social grouping has not been explored thoroughly.

Guttridge and colleagues have determined that juvenile lemon sharks Negaprion brevirostris prefer to follow larger individuals and preferentially associate with conspecifics. In 2011, Guttridge and others also recorded active partner preference in the species. In these papers, the mechanisms driving group formation were not known. Familiarity, which is the likely mechanism, is the preference for individuals in groups of animals and is common in the animal kingdom.

The conservation challenge for this project is to overcome the public’s fear of sharks. Many people celebrate a shark being killed by a fisherman – but their response should be the opposite. It is estimated that 26 million to 73 million sharks are killed annually. Regardless of the actual figure, the results are clear: shark populations are being over-exploited. This could result in the collapse of many ecological systems due to the regulatory importance of sharks as apex predators; these animals already make up the smallest portion of creatures in an ecosystem. Sharks do not receive the protection they deserve because of the public’s fear.

Aims & objectives

The aims and objectives of this project are to:

  • Determine the social preferences of lemon sharks, specifically in group formation.
  • Inform the scientific community of the results.
  • Teach shark conservation to children and adults around Bimini.
  • Teach shark conservation to fishermen and school children in South Carolina.