The Physics of Great White Sharks Leaping Out of the Water to Catch Seals

sharkview_615.jpg

Do you know what is indisputably awesome, even for those language-sticklers who claim you can only use awesome "in its original sense"? Great white sharks jumping out of the water to eat seals.

While you or I might have been content to just watch the Planet Earth episode about this phenomenon, biophysicists tried to describe the physics of a shark launching itself at a seal in a November 30 paper in the journal Marine Biology Research.

They dropped decoy seals into the water to elicit 121 Great White strikes over a period of years. Using the data of how high the sharks jumped, they were able to calculate how fast they were moving.

"For example, on 18 June 2002, broadside to our observation vessel, a 3.5-m white shark performed a breach with a height of [at least] 2.4 m, a water-escape trajectory of [plus or minus]45 degrees, and duration of 1.2 s," they write. That is to say, an 11.5-foot shark jumped 8 feet out of the water and caught air for more than a second. Doing the math, they estimate that the sharks get up to speeds of almost 10 meters a second (or greater than 21 miles per hour)!

Most shark attacks on the seals occurred where the bottom depth of the water was 26-30 meters. In those circumstances, the researchers calculated that the sharks would reach the seals in around 2, 2.5 seconds after they begin their strikes. That's not much time for a seal to get out of the way, which is one reason that shark attacks are successful from between 40 and 55 percent of the time, depending on the lighting conditions.

So, just a tip, if you're near Seal Island in South Africa, maybe you should stay in the boat.

Via @mocost


Presented by

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Photos of New York City, in Motion

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book

Video

The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"

Video

This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

Video

What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in Technology

Just In