Are Sharks Friendly? (Answer)

Sharks often have a bad rep with many people citing them as their biggest fear. At the same time, sharks are increasingly in the media as social and even cuddly animals.

That’s so much the case that Reddit and other parts of the Internet have even started calling sharks “sea puppies”. 

So, are sharks friendly? Not really. Sharks might show social behavior toward humans, but mostly, they’re solitary animals without the emotional capacity to be “friendly”. And, when they do approach humans, it’s usually for reasons like curiosity, expectations of food, or being itchy. 

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Do Sharks Like Humans? 

Sharks are not the vicious predators that horror movies have made them out to be. At the same time, sharks don’t usually have any “emotions” about humans either. 

In 2015, a viral shark video raised interest in how much sharks like humans. In it, a seemingly friendly leopard shark cuddles and accepts belly rubs from an aquarium keeper. The shark rolls over, accepts hugs, and appears to genuinely enjoy and seek out attention. 

Does the shark like the human in the video? Not in the traditional sense of “like” because, to our knowledge, sharks don’t experience emotion in that way.

However, the shark is accustomed to the person, likely gets food from them, and can go to the person to be scratched and petted. 

Even in the wild, sharks can seem very friendly. Swimmers often note individual and schools of sharks approaching them.

Sometimes, these sharks brush up against them and engage in social behavior. Often, this happens because sharks are extremely curious creatures. 

In fact, sharks are so curious that they test bite new objects to see if they are edible. Keep in mind that that could be you.

That’s especially true if you try to feed the sharks or startle them by petting them unexpectedly. 

Do Sharks Bond With People? 

Sharks cannot bond with people. However, sharks can become reliant on people.

Most people asking this question are familiar with the 2020 viral video of a wild tiger shark following a shark conservationist around.

In that video, the tiger shark becomes accustomed to the swimmer over a period of about 20 years, following them around, and even letting them remove fishhooks. 

While cute, that remarkable story is not about a bond. It’s a wild animal that’s accustomed to a person and treating them as part of their environment.

The shark consistently gets rewards and interest from the person, and so continues to follow them. 

That’s especially true because large sharks often work together to chase and corner or ambush food. It’s natural for big sharks to rely on other big animals in the sea, because they can consistently use those animals to get food

That’s even true for baby sharks. While most mammals will bond with humans if exposed early enough, sharks don’t. In fact, baby sharks leave their mother almost as soon as they’re born, with no bonding and no care period. That means sharks are fundamentally incapable of forming a bond in the same sense that mammals do. 

Can You Pet Sharks?

Sharks often display behavior as though they like to be petted or scratched. However, it’s never a good idea to try to pet a wild shark.

If you do, you must do so in a marina, under supervision. Here, sharks that are accustomed to people may be accustomed to scratching themselves on humans. 

In addition, even wild sharks can show signs of liking to be petted. However, petting a wild shark could result in startling it or scaring it, which could be very dangerous. 

Can You Play With Sharks? 

However, sharks raised in aquariums or in marinas that are frequented by humans do get used to people.

If you dream of finding friendly sharks to swim with, there are several marinas in the Bahamas and Hawaii that offer just that, with Compass Cay being one of the most famous places to go swimming with sharks. 

Compass Cay is home to hundreds of Nurse Sharks, small sharks that normally feed off of shallow bottom-living marine life. That makes their risk to humans incredibly low.

Plus, these sharks are very accustomed to being around people, so their chances of being startled and attacking defensively are very low.

However, even Great Whites sometimes swim in pairs and sometimes approach humans out of curiosity.

Despite that, sharks are mostly solitary animals. Many types of sharks like the Great White shark and Bull sharks swim and hunt by themselves for most of their life.

Others, like hammerheads or the above-mentioned nursery sharks are much more likely to swim and hunt in packs. The latter groups are more likely to exhibit what people see as “social” behavior.

But, they aren’t playful. Sharks do not push balls around, work out puzzles or engage in other “playful” behavior like Dolphins or otters. 

Therefore, any attempt you do make at playing with a shark could be interpreted as an attack or as stressful. In some cases, sharks may tolerate it.

In others, they may retreat and hide. Or, they may bite. It’s always important to practice caution and respect that the animals you are around are wild and dangerous. 

Are Sharks Aggressive? 

Sharks have a reputation for being aggressive man-hunters, but is it true? No, not at all.

In fact, most sharks are shy and timid, and avoid confrontation. In fact, with over 400 species of sharks, only about 15 are even traceable to attacks on humans. 

Most notably, all of those sharks are larger sharks, which would naturally hunt something the size of a human.

And, researchers suggest that most shark attacks are cases of mistaken identity (assuming the human is more normal prey), a defensive reaction, or because the shark is being territorial about food

Of course, sharks can be extremely territorial and defensive. You also wouldn’t want to be in the water when a shark is agitated, because the shark is faster, more dangerous, and better able to navigate its environment than you are. 

Do Sharks Feel Emotion?

Sharks don’t likely experience emotion in the same way that humans do. However, sharks are extremely intelligent animals, capable of complex cognition and social behavior.

Sharks can share information like the location of prey, can collaborate on kills, and show significant curiosity. 

In fact, tagging experiments show that sharks very often school with the same animals.

Great White sharks, for example, show a distinct preference for hunting with the same other individuals, even when they have no other connection to those individuals.

Sharks have incredible memories, and seeking out the same individuals to hunt or swim with increases safety, reducing the chance that the hunting partner will leave, fail in the hunt, or attack after making the kill.

So, while that kind of behavior can seem emotionally driven, it’s very likely a survival instinct. 

At the same time, sharks have cognitive capabilities on par with crows and even some primates.

Sharks can learn to complete puzzles, can remember images over periods of 50 months, and can identify and follow specific humans from a group.

Those abilities are good for survival in the ocean, but none of them translate to what we would call “emotion”. 

Can You Keep A Shark As A Pet? 

Sharks are very often kept as pets in aquariums. However, sharks cannot be tamed.

If you keep a shark as a pet, it will be an aquarium fish for display only. In fact, you can even choose freshwater sharks like the Paroon or Harlequin shark if you don’t want a saltwater aquarium. 

Most aquarium sharks are small species and will never grow to be more than a foot or so long (if that). This makes them safer and easier to keep in your home if you want a shark as a pet. 

In Conclusion 

If you’re wondering if sharks are friendly, the easy answer is “no”. However, sharks can be curious, engage with people, and can approach people in the water. In rare cases, sharks even approach humans to be scratched. This can give the illusion of friendliness. 

At the same time, sharks are wild animals and they can be extremely dangerous. It’s important not to deliberately approach or attempt to pet a shark in the wild. And, if you do have one in your aquarium, it’s important to avoid stressing it out by attempting to be overly friendly because it can still react badly.

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