Sharks: Cooperative Interactions With Other Species

9 min read

Sharks, members of the elasmobranch family, have long captivated the imaginations of humans. With their sleek, powerful bodies and predatory prowess, these creatures have been characterized as solitary hunters, often associated with images of danger and aggression. However, recent scientific studies have revealed intriguing examples of sharks displaying cooperative behavior with other species, which challenge the traditional perception of their solitary nature.

One example of such cooperation involves the relationship between sharks and a small bird known as the yellow-billed oxpecker. Found primarily in African savannas, these birds are known for their symbiotic relationship with large mammals, where they act as both cleaner and sentinel. Surprisingly, some species of sharks have been observed attracting oxpeckers to their presence, allowing the birds to feed on parasites and dead skin from their bodies. This mutually beneficial arrangement demonstrates a form of cooperation between sharks and oxpeckers, shedding new light on the potential for social interactions within the shark community.

Social Behavior

Social behavior refers to interactions and relationships between individuals of the same species, and sometimes even between different species. In the case of sharks, there is limited evidence suggesting that they display cooperation with other species.

Sharks, as primarily solitary hunters, are known for their individualistic behavior. However, there have been instances where certain species of sharks have been observed engaging in cooperative behavior. One such example is the cleaning mutualism between sharks and cleaner fish. Some shark species, such as the lemon shark, have been observed visiting cleaning stations where cleaner fish rid them of parasites. In this mutually beneficial relationship, the cleaner fish get food, while the sharks benefit from the removal of unwanted parasites.


Image from Pexels, photographed by Robbie King.

Another example of potential cooperation among sharks is seen during feeding frenzies. When a large prey item, such as a whale carcass, is available, various shark species may gather and feed together. Though their actions are driven by individual motivations to consume the carcass, the presence of multiple sharks may create the appearance of cooperation.

While these examples demonstrate instances where sharks exhibit social behavior, it is important to note that they do not signify long-term cooperative relationships as seen in some other animal species. Overall, sharks are primarily solitary animals, with limited evidence of cooperation with other species in a true sense.

Mutualistic Relationships

Mutualistic relationships refer to interactions between two different species, wherein both species benefit from the interaction. In the context of sharks, while they are often portrayed as solitary predators, there are indeed examples of sharks displaying cooperation with other species. One such example is seen in the relationship between sharks and pilot fish.


Image from Pexels, photographed by Jess Loiterton.

Pilot fish are small fish species that are often observed swimming in close association with sharks. The pilot fish benefit from this relationship by feeding on the parasites that attach themselves to the shark’s skin. By cleaning the shark’s skin, the pilot fish obtain a source of food while also removing potentially harmful parasites. In return, the sharks benefit from this mutualistic relationship by having their skin cleaned, which can improve their overall health and possibly even reduce the likelihood of infections.

Another example of mutualistic relationships involving sharks is the symbiotic relationship between sharks and remora fish. Remoras have a specialized dorsal fin structure that allows them to attach themselves to the shark’s body. By attaching to the shark, remoras can gain protection and transportation, as they are able to travel with the shark without exerting much energy. In turn, the remoras provide a benefit to the shark by picking up leftover scraps of food from the shark’s meals, thus acting as a cleaning service for the shark while also obtaining a source of nutrition.


Image from Pexels, photographed by MART PRODUCTION.

These examples illustrate how sharks can display cooperation with other species in the form of mutualistic relationships. While sharks are often seen as solitary hunters, these interactions highlight the complexity and interconnectedness of marine ecosystems, where different species can form beneficial partnerships for their mutual gain.

Behavioral Interactions

Behavioral interactions refer to the ways in which individuals or members of different species interact with one another, often influencing their behavior or actions. In the specific context of sharks, the subtopic explores whether there are any examples of sharks displaying cooperation with other species. Cooperation in behavioral interactions typically involves mutual benefits for the participating individuals or species.

While sharks are often portrayed as solitary apex predators, there are documented instances of sharks engaging in cooperative behavior with other species. One such example is cleaning symbiosis, where cleaner fish or other organisms remove parasites or dead skin from a shark’s body. This mutually beneficial interaction not only helps the shark maintain its health and hygiene but also provides a food source for the cleaner organisms.

Another example of cooperative behavior involves certain species of sharks cooperating in hunting or feeding activities. In some instances, multiple sharks may work together to corral prey into a tighter group, making it easier for them to capture and consume. Such coordinated efforts can enhance the overall success rate of the hunting endeavor and increase the chances of obtaining a meal.

Additionally, there have been reports of sharks being associated with certain species of fishes in a commensal relationship, where the shark benefits from the presence of other fish species without causing any harm or benefit to them. For instance, certain types of fish may follow a shark closely, feeding on the scraps or leftover prey from the shark’s meals.

These examples demonstrate that while sharks are often depicted as solitary creatures, they do engage in cooperative interactions with other species. These behavioral interactions can provide advantages for both the sharks and the cooperating species, illustrating the complexity of animal behavior and the potential for mutual cooperation in the animal kingdom.


Image from Pexels, photographed by Jess Loiterton.

Cooperative Hunting

Cooperative hunting is a behavior observed in certain species where individuals work together to capture prey more efficiently. This behavior is not commonly associated with sharks, as they are primarily solitary hunters. However, there have been some observations suggesting cooperative hunting behaviors between sharks and other species. One example is the association between sharks and fish known as remoras.

Remoras, also called suckerfish, have a unique adaptation that allows them to attach themselves to larger marine animals, including sharks. By attaching to the shark’s body, remoras are able to gain protection and access to food scraps left behind by the shark. In return, the remoras may help the shark by removing parasites or providing some form of sensory assistance. This symbiotic relationship between sharks and remoras could be considered a form of cooperative hunting, as both species benefit from the interaction.

Another example of potential cooperative hunting involves sharks and certain species of dolphins. It has been observed that certain shark species, such as the dusky shark, may cooperate with dolphins in capturing schools of fish. Dolphins are known for their intelligence and group hunting strategies, which could potentially be employed in conjunction with sharks. Together, these predators can more effectively herd and corral fish, leading to increased hunting success for both species.


Commensalism is a symbiotic relationship in which one species benefits while the other remains unaffected. In the context of sharks, there are indeed examples of commensalism with other species. One example is the remoras, also known as suckerfish, which attach themselves to sharks using a specialized suction disc on their head. By doing so, remoras gain access to food scraps and protection from predators while not having any significant impact on the shark.


Image from Pexels, photographed by Polina Tankilevitch.

Another example of commensalism involving sharks is with certain small fish species known as cleaning fish. These fish feed on parasites and dead skin cells that accumulate on the bodies of sharks. In return, the sharks receive a cleaning service for their skin and gills, effectively removing potential sources of infection or irritation.

Commensalistic relationships can be advantageous for both parties involved, as the commensal species benefits from the resources or protection provided by the other species, while the host species generally remains unaffected. Nonetheless, it’s important to note that not all interactions between sharks and other species fall under the category of commensalism, as some may involve other types of symbiotic relationships such as mutualism or parasitism.

Final Implications

In conclusion, while sharks are generally portrayed as solitary and aggressive predators, there are indeed examples of their cooperation with other species. One prominent example is their symbiotic relationship with certain species of cleaner fish. These cleaner fish remove parasites from the bodies of sharks, benefiting both parties involved. This mutualistic interaction showcases a level of cooperation between sharks and cleaner fish, highlighting that sharks are not always solitary beings.

Another example of shark cooperation can be observed in their hunting strategies. Some shark species, such as the grey reef sharks, have been observed to exhibit cooperative hunting behaviors. They have been seen working in groups to herd and encircle schools of fish, improving their chances of capturing prey. This cooperative hunting behavior among sharks further emphasizes that they can engage in coordinated efforts, challenging the stereotypical perception of sharks as solitary hunters.

In summary, although sharks are often perceived as solitary predators, examples of their cooperation with other species, such as cleaner fish and in hunting behaviors, demonstrate that there are instances where sharks display cooperative behaviors. Through these interactions, sharks exhibit a level of mutualistic symbiosis and coordinated hunting strategies, which challenge the notion of sharks solely as solitary beings in the natural world.

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