Can great white sharks change color? Camo Sharks hunts for the answer

Enlarge / A Great White shark swims off the coast of South Africa. The new NatGeo documentary Camo Sharks explores whether these apex predators of the deep are capable of changing color to better sneak up on prey. (credit: National Geographic/Hansa Winshaw)

This year marks the 10th anniversary of National Geographic’s Sharkfest, and the NatGeo channel is marking the occasion with an intriguing new documentary exploring whether great white sharks can change their color to hunt more effectively. Camo Sharks follows marine biologist and research coordinator for Blue Wilderness Research Unit Ryan Johnson and graduate student Gibbs Kuguru in the field as they attempt to gather evidence to support the hypothesis that these ocean predators can tweak the dermal cells in their skin to change color as a means of camouflage.

A native of New Zealand, Johnson grew up in a beach-side town, absorbing the conventional wisdom that dolphins were “the good guys” and sharks were “the bad guys.” When he decided to become a marine biologist, he wanted to work with dolphins. When he was 20, he had the chance to do some research on great white sharks in South Africa, which were facing tremendous pressure at the time from over-fishing, leading to a rise in shark attacks.

“They had just become very popular as a delicacy,” Johnson told Ars. “The shark fin soup trade had gone crazy, and [sharks] were getting mass slaughtered. It was an awakening of awareness for me. I realized this needs attention, a lot more so from my perspective, at least, compared to dolphins.”

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