Sharks Navigate Using their Mental ‘Sat-Nav’ System

A study was made by researchers at the Florida Museum of Natural History on sharks and their legendary sensory powers. Their findings show that the sharks not only have the keen ability to detect tiny concentrations of chemicals, hear low frequency sound several hundred meters away but can also navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field as their very own personal compass.

Who needs a sat nav/GPS system? Sharks certainly don't!
Who needs a sat nav/GPS system? Sharks certainly don't!

Ecologists were tracking three species of sharks, the tiger, thresher, and blacktip reef sharks. Their observations led them to conclude that certain species of sharks use a database of mental maps to get to a specific location, either to find food or a mate, and they navigate their way through by using the Earth’s magnetic field as their compass.

It was also observed that these sharks have at least two distinct types of movement or ‘walk’, based on the shape of their movements and different spatial scales, or the relative lengths and distances in the shark’s movement. A random walk is when a shark just swims around aimlessly within the nearby vicinity. Whereas a directed walk is a movement towards a known or specific goal, usually far from their current location.

However, of the 3 species of sharks studied, it seemed that the tiger sharks have better aptitude for orienteering, finding their way to specific locations 30 miles away, deep underwater and often in the dark.

The adult thresher sharks were observed to have better navigational skills than their young, presumably due to the mental maps they were able to accumulate from their previous journeys over time.

The blacktip reef sharks ended at the bottom of the figurative class; due to the fact that analysis showed that this particular species often swim randomly within the boundaries of their home. The tiger sharks and thresher sharks, on the other hand, using highly directed walk, were able to swim to specific locations seemingly knowing where they were going.

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