Updated: Dec 8, 2020
We are all different from each other. There are no two people the same. What makes one person respond calmly to a challenging situation and another person respond urgently to the same challenging situation? This factor is personality. Personality is defined by the American Psychological Association as “...individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving.” -https://www.apa.org/topics/personality/. If put very simply, there are two types of personalities: introvert and extrovert. For example, I am an introvert. I do best when I am alone, and enjoy company mainly in one-on-one interactions. However, I do like to hang out with my family, talk with a bunch of divers, or participate in class. When taking into account all of the little things that set us apart from each other, there are all kinds of aspects to these personalities. One can take personality tests and might get to know themselves better. For example, the Myers and Briggs’ personality test features sixteen different personality types. However, by just observing another person and interacting with them, you would get to know them better than what any test could ever tell you. You would be able to know if they are generally introverted or extroverted, but also their ways of thinking, feeling, how they strategize, how they act in stressful situations, their likes and dislikes, if they are generally ambitious or calm, etc. That is how you make friends, find the person you love, know your closest family member.
However, we are not the only beings on this planet that have personalities. Spend five minutes in the water with sharks, and you will start know each shark individually. “I would say that scientifically we bring personalities down to bold and shy” says Doctor Chris Lowe, professor of Marine Biology at California State Long Beach. He continues, saying “There are some sharks that are more bold and will approach things faster or will go for the bait faster. And then there are sharks that are really shy, and it’s really hard to lure them in. And those two behavioral traits are found in many different species of fish, not just sharks.” If you think about it, the “bold and shy” personalities could be translated to the “extravert and introvert” general personalities in humans. However, just like humans, we can look into closer detail and see different aspects of the “bold” and “shy” personality types.
“Out here [at Guadalupe] I’ve noticed different personalities, like Drogin. He’s definitely inquisitive and curious and wants to know everything that’s going on. I think he’s just playful.”- Morgan Blaha, a video editor and shark diver. Another account of Drogin is explained by Sian Jennings, a shark diver at Guadalupe Island. “The shark everyone kept referring to [on this trip] was Drogin, being quite an aggressive shark, always going after the bait aggressively…” she says. From these accounts, and from direct observations, Drogin seems to fit the “bold” personality type, with aspects being aggressive, inquisitive, playful, and curious.
Drogin wasn’t the only shark at Guadalupe Island. “Jett was just cool, calm, confident, would look you right in the eye, had no intention of leaving any time soon…” -Erika Wunch, Vice President of Shark Allies. Jett was just one of many other sharks that inhabit the waters around the island. “Some of the others that we have seen today were a lot calmer, and just, not really interested, and surveying what’s going on.”-Sian Jennings. Another account of calmer sharks is reported by Morgan Blaha who says “I’ve seen a handful of sharks that are really shy” and Rob Larson, a Shark Diver at Guadalupe, who says “some shark that are very timid”. These three people had never been shark diving with wild sharks before, and are already making these observations. These sharks would fit the “shy” personality type, with aspects like cool, calm, confident, patient, and timid.
A factor in personality could possibly be location. Laurel Irvine, the campaign manager for Shark Allies, tells about the sharks she observed in her study abroad in Australia. “And we also see different sharks even from the Guadalupe population of white sharks to Australia. In Australia they are a lot more aggressive.” she says.
We can also expand to other species of sharks, and not just white sharks. Erika Wunch gives a couple accounts with different species saying, “one of the things I’ve really noticed is scalloped hammerheads in particular are super shy, and super sensitive to everything...and then you get crazy Caribbean sharks that are just bonkers, and everywhere, and it’s like a complete frenzy and no one knows which direction to go.” Johnathan Odom, a CPA and shark diver, gives another account, saying, “some are more aggressive sharks, and seem more inquisitive or maybe even brush other sharks off, and other sharks have been more shy, like hammerheads tend to be a lot more shy and skittish of people.” We can see that personalities can vary from one species of shark to another, as well as within the species. To compare this to humans, we could divide us up into nationalities (instead of species) and observe that from Thailand to Germany, the general population’s personalities are different (either bold and shy, or introvert and extravert), but within that population, you will find even more differences among the individual people you encounter. “When psychologists have given the same personality test to hundreds or thousands of people from different nations, they have indeed found that the average scores tend to come out differently across cultures.” -https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170413-different-nationalities-really-have-different-personalities
What is JAWS? Is JAWS a “bold” or “shy” personality type shark? By watching the movies, it is very clear that that is an extremely bold shark. Unrealistically bold. However, these are the types of movies people watch, therefore these are the types of sharks people think of. “Drogin unfortunately is a great shark, but he’s also that white shark that gives all white sharks a bad name. He’s the one who keeps that stereotype of an aggressive shark.” -Lalo Saidy, underwater cameraman, founder of This Is My Shark Life, dive master, and photographer.
Stories of stereotypical aggressive and “bold” sharks fuel the fire unless there are also stories of calm, “shy” personality type sharks. To relate this to humans, if the only stories were told about the “aggressive and impulsive” people like Joan of Arc and Winston Churchill, we would never hear about the “calm and confident” people like Rosa Parks or Nelson Mandella. All of these people are heroes, no matter whether they are bold, shy, introverted or extraverted. All of these people are history, and all of these sharks are nature.
Overall, observing sharks is one of the best things I get to do in my life, allowing me to see sharks for what they really are and their individuality. I am not alone in this, either. “One of the beauties of being at Guadalupe for almost a week and constantly diving with sharks is that you get to see how their brain works. Because you would think that as an apex predator, the way we are conditioned to think of them, they’re man-eaters, all they think about is food, all they think about is reproducing and all of that but you can totally see after a couple hours, you see how their brain works.”- Laurel Irvine. Another account expanding from Guadalupe comes from Stefanie Brendl. She says, “I think it is easier to tell [different personalities] with the bigger species, when you watch the reef sharks it’s harder to tell them apart when they always travel in a bunch, it’s harder to see whose individuals but I bet if you spent a lot of time with them, you would probably also recognize that. I think it’s just part of most animals that have some sort of character.” Sharks are amazing. Our oceans are amazing. Our world is amazing. For me, observing the different personalities in sharks has given me a whole new view of them. They are more like us than we think. We put ourselves as significantly more important than these animals, giving ourselves the power and the reasons to do as we please with the one planet we have. Sharks are just here. They have been here longer than we have, and deserve respect and protection. We tend to care only about things that we understand, and we tend to understand personality since we encounter it every day and live with it. If we can take the time to encounter personality in other animals, not just us, we may expand our horizons of understanding and conservation.