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Smart Sharks

fish shark cognition

Sharks are often viewed as mindless killing machines; their inflexible behaviour driven by instinct. However recent studies investigating shark intelligence suggest that they are far more complex than previously thought. Here I present a summary of our recent work on shark cognition using Port Jackson sharks as a model species. Port Jackson sharks are capable of associating artificial noises (music) with food rewards and can be trained to move to a specific location when they hear the noise. Sharks can not only learn individually but can also learn from observing or interacting with others (social learning). Sharks are also capable of quantity discrimination and, contrary to expectations, this ability is actually enhanced under global warming scenarios. Finally, we show that shark brains are lateralised much like the rest of the vertebrates. Laterality is associated with enhanced cognition and is also impacted by rearing embryos at increased temperatures. A better understanding of shark cognition helps us explore the driving forces behind shark behaviour and has implications for fisheries and animal welfare.

Dr Culum Brown
Professor at the Department of Biological Sciences of the Macquarie University, Australia