That moment. The anticipation. Will it happen? It seems like I am waiting forever for it to happen; the forever is inevitable. Then it happens. In slow-motion it seems, like my heart stopped. The awe-inspiring Polaris breach of a Great White shark.
But why do they do it? We know Carcharodon Carcharias breach to ambush prey. As I mentioned previously, White sharks ambush prey from below by studying it high above (mainly sea lions). Once ready, they swim from very deep and very fast, ambushing it into their massive powerful jaws, while launching itself fully out of the water, and splashing heavily back down. The breaching phenomena was first recognized in White Sharks of South Africa. Now breaching has been recognized in other White Sharks in other areas such as New Zealand. You can read more about the Great White shark here in our knowledge base.
Did you know that other species of sharks’ breach too?
Recently, one species has been reported and documented, through photographs and video, breaching. This shark would seem the last shark to engage in this type of behavior. The mystery shark was caught in the act, and has been all the buzz. The Basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, second in size only to the Whale shark, and one of the only three planktivorous species of sharks, doesn’t seem like the type of shark to breach. This slow-moving, heavy, ram-feeding shark would be the last on the list to engage in breaching behaviors. In 2018 a Basking shark off the coast of Ireland was caught in the act. Basking sharks can breach out of the water as high as Great White sharks. This isn’t an anomaly. Basking sharks are known to aggregate, and a group of 20 was filmed engaging in this breaching behavior. On average these sharks were breaching around 4 feet above the surface, and reaching speeds of 11 miles per hour.
There are several theories as to why Basking sharks breach. Since they are breaching in groups and both males and females breach, researchers are exploring pre-mating behaviors. Possibly males breach to show off, and females breach to accept they are ready? The answers are unknown as of now.
Thresher sharks have been caught in the act too, as well as many other species.
Scientists do know that one reason sharks breach is to dislodge parasites and remoras. Imagine if you had hitch-hikers on your side all day. What a nuisance. Parasites harm the sharks, and in addition, parasites and remoras create drag, hindering the shark’s movement, agility, and in some cases even the ability to hunt. Since sharks don’t have hands, one easy way to try to dislodge them is by breaching, gaining speed fast, and catapulting out of the air as fast and as high as possible, slamming back against the water.
Breaching is extraordinary behavior to witness in a shark. We now know sharks breach for several reasons, which means the behavior is not isolated, and it is important to the lives of sharks.