Personality and dominance in sand tiger sharks (#644)
Dominance hierarchies have commonly been observed in many elasmobranch species and can vary dependent upon context but they influence access to resources such as food where individuals higher in the pecking order get priority or exclusive access. This behavioural study examined the interactions of six sand tiger sharks during feeding at The Blue Planet Aquarium, UK, to understand if dominance behaviour affected access to food and to discern if there were behaviours that were specific to a particular individual such that identifiable personalities existed amongst the six sharks. In this study several behaviours relating to dominance hierarchies were recorded, such as biting, displacing and retreat behaviour. The frequency of aggressive and submissive encounters observed during feeding was recorded by video. A dominance score was then formed for each individual using the number of aggressive acts and subtracting the number on retreats observed for each individual. This score could then be used to rank each individual and demonstrated that a dominance hierarchy did exist within the group. In addition to this domination of the feed area was observed, and could be attributed to one individual after analysing latency to enter the feed area and the time spent in the feed area, plus this was linked to increased quantity of food consumed. Thus, there was a clear dominance hierarchy were one individual monopolised the feeding area, displaced lower ranking individuals and performed specific behaviours. These results confirm the existence of intraspecific variation and social relationships amongst a small group of sand tiger sharks. Future research is needed to investigate how to better encourage subordinates to feed more frequently. Strategies to reduce dominance behaviour and increase food consumption in all individuals should also be explored to improve the husbandry of captive animals.