Small-spotted catsharks show signs of having social personalities, according to new research.

You can look at just about any animal and see that it has individual quirks of personality: Dogs who are pessimistic, octopodes that squirt their least favorite researchers in the lab, and moray eels that like to cuddle – just to name a few.

But this study, published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, wasn’t just looking to see which sharks were grumpy or friendly. Instead, researchers wanted to see if the sharks would repeat the same behaviors in different settings and with different individuals – the same way we do.

“Imagine if we took 10 work colleagues and plonked them in a bar, and observed which individuals sat with which other individuals over the course of an evening,” William Hughes, an animal behavior researcher at the University of Sussex who wasn’t involved in the study, told BBC News.

To see whether someone was inherently solitary or socially gregarious, you could keep repeating the experiment in different places – and with different individuals – to see who tended to form large, lively social gatherings and who tended to end up socializing with as few people as possible.

The researchers didn’t take the sharks out drinking, but they put them in the equivalent social situation for their species: Ten groups, each with 10 of the catsharks, were put in three different environments.

To stay safe in the ocean, a young shark has one of two options – group up to rely on the buddy system, or stay isolated and try to blend in with its surroundings. The researchers hypothesized that sharks would stick to one adaptation – that some would be social, and some would be loners. Sure enough, the sharks that wanted to cuddle up in big groups did so in any location, while the loners stayed as such.

This study only examined one species of shark, but other researchers are already looking at the same kinds of “personality” traits in others. In any case, it’s increasingly clear that the social lives of animals – while perhaps difficult for us to recognize – are pretty complex.

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