Sharks' Sensory Abilities Are Redefined

WOODS HOLE, Mass., June 21 (UPI) — U.S. biologists say they’ve found sharks depend upon current vibrations and an ability to detect odors independently by each of their nostrils to detect prey.

The findings by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of South Florida are said to be the first conclusive evidence that bilateral time differences trump odor concentration differences in sharks.

Combined with the ability to detect underwater vibrations, sharks are able to zero in on the location of their prey by smelling in stereo, said Jayne Gardiner of the university’s Department of Integrative Biology.

Sharks have long had a reputation as efficient predators with keenly attuned senses, but until now it was thought they followed the strongest scent when hunting prey, said Boston University Professor Jelle Atema, a study co-author also affiliated with WHOI.

Most often, sharks will hit an odor patch at an angle rather than straight on, he said. So by determining which nostril received the odor first, the shark will automatically steer into the odor patch. The researchers said the difference in timing between nostrils can be as small as a 10th of a second.

The study appears in the journal Current Biology.

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