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Can benthic sharks learn sound cues?

The marine environment is filled with biotic and abiotic sounds, some of which can predict important events and can help animals find food or their way home. Specific sound cues and ‘soundscapes’ facilitate vital activities such as foraging, predator avoidance, communication and orientation. Most research with sounds in sharks has focused on hearing ability and attractiveness to sound sources, but very little is known about their abilities to learn about sounds, especially in benthic species.

 

This research project investigates whether juvenile Port Jackson sharks can learn to associate a musical stimulus with a food reward, and then discriminate between two distinct musical stimuli. We found that five out of eight sharks were successfully conditioned to associate a jazz song with a food reward delivered in a specific corner of the tank. Interestingly, some sharks developed a strong side-bias to the right, which gave them higher chances of receiving a reward compared to random choice.

 

We hope that by shedding light on their fascinating learning abilities, we can help to promote a positive opinion of sharks, an important factor in shifting public and political will towards their conservation.

 

Research led by Catarina Vila Pouca and A/Prof Culum Brown from the Fish Lab at Macquarie University. For volunteering/internship opportunities head to http://thefishlab.com.