Mistaken identity: scientists suggest poor vision to blame for some shark bites

UK and Australian researchers created a virtual white shark visual system to test the theory that sharks occasionally mistake humans for seals

Pixabay/Christel Sagniez

Scientists from the University of Bristol and Macquarie University in Australia have highlighted that some shark bites may be due to the marine mammals mistaking humans for seals.

A study, which was published in Journal of the Royal Society Interface, involved creating a virtual white shark visual system and using this to view human and seal movements from below the water’s surface.

The researchers determined that from the perspective of a white shark, there was no clear visual distinction between a seal and human – supporting the ‘mistaken identity theory’ behind some shark attacks.

Lead author, Dr Laura Ryan, of Macquarie University, shared that white sharks have much lower visual acuity than humans and lack colour vision.

“In these experiments, we were able to view the world through the eyes of a white shark,” she said.

Dr Ryan added that understanding why sharks bite can help to prevent future incidents.

“The findings of this study have inspired the design of non-invasive vision-based shark mitigation devices, which are currently being tested,” she shared.