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Why Do Pilot Fish Swim With Sharks? The Answer Will Surprise You

Why Do Pilot Fish Swim with Sharks?
They are not the best of friends but co-exist with each other-the most dangerous predator at sea and a school of tiny fish tagging along wherever the predator swims. Let's find out why pilot fish swim with sharks in the same territory.
Mary Anthony
Last Updated: Aug 12, 2017
What a Bonding!
According to sailor legends, pilot fish follow the ship that has captured the shark they were swimming with for as long as six weeks!
The relation between the pilot fish and shark is symbolic and also a matter of curiosity. These two oceanic creatures have been an inspiration for many myths and legends. With a set of 300 teeth in the jaws at various stages of development no one can escape from the deadly bite of a shark. Scientists have reported that the great white shark is the hardest-biting creature alive with a bite rate of 1.8 tons that is 20 times greater than the human.

Isn't it amazing that there's only one sea creature that can get into the mouth of the shark without being its next meal-and it's the pilot fish. Let us closely examine this school of fish for its peculiar behavior.
The Shark and its Territory
They are found all over the world in shallow and deeper ocean water depending on the type species.
The oceanic white tip Carcharhinus longimanus shark is mostly found in tropical and sub-tropical deep ocean waters and are slow swimmers; hence they are a perfect match for the pilot fish to swim along.
Sharks are found to be on the top of the food chain and their diet mostly consists of fish and sea-dwelling invertebrates such as squid. These predators hunt the weak and injured creatures to eliminate them from the Eco-system.
Shark hunting
They are known to be excellent hunters and scavengers as they can spot a prey from a very long distance due to their accurate eye-sight and powerful sense of smell. Their bodies consist of a large network of pores that pick up electric impulses.
Characteristics of a Pilot Fish
They are largely carnivorous in nature and are commensurable, which means they live on a mutual benefit relation with another organism.
They are mostly found in warm or tropical ocean waters.
They grow up to 60-70 cm and are dark blue or blackish-silver in color.
Legends and myths describe them as ship-loving creatures as it was believed in ancient times that they could sail a ship to safe shores by giving it the right direction.
The symbolic relation between a Pilot Fish and Shark
White tip shark
It is well-known that pilot fish seek refuge with sea turtles, rays and sharks. They are said to be in a symbiotic relationship with these creatures. They mostly swim with oceanic white tip Carcharhinus longimanus shark.
The oceanic white tip shark has to swim constantly to ensure sufficient oxygen supply through its gills. Thus while traveling long distances, it needs the company of pilot fish to keep its gills free from parasites.
The reason to swim with sharks is to find refuge from other violent predators at sea. In return, they eat the ectoparasites and leftovers from the shark helping the host remain germ-free.
It has been observed that small pilot fish swim into the mouth of shark to clean fragments of food from its teeth.
As they travel with the shark into deeper oceans without being threatened, they save a lot on their travel energy and get more food sources.
They exhibit the behavior of being very territorial about the shark they are with and do not allow additional pilot fish to join the group.
They are basically described as 'cleaner fish' because they keep the shark clean and healthy from parasites.
The ocean can be a very dangerous place to live in but having a powerful predator by your side to protect has its own perks. And in a remarkable show of restraint from the shark that shows its level of trust in the little pilot fish is a bond that's indeed fascinating!