Location: Simons IMAX Theatre

Aquarium Lecture Series

Are Sharks Smart? Exploring the Brain of Sharks and Their Relatives

Thursday, June 21

Kara E. Yopak, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina Wilmington

Selection for cognitive ability has been proposed as a key factor driving the evolution of larger brains and/or the brain structures associated with problem solving, social behavior, and other cognitively demanding tasks. These brain structures are often subject to different selection pressures, resulting in a significant degree of variation in brain size and complexity across vertebrates. Kara Yopak, Ph.D., explores major evolutionary patterns of brain organization in fishes, with particular emphasis on one of the most basal vertebrate groups, the cartilaginous fishes, which includes sharks, skates, rays, and chimaerids. Across a dataset of more than 150 species–including iconic species such as the great white shark to species with extreme morphological specializations, like the filter feeding whale shark–Yopak will explore how the variation in the size and complexity major brain structures reflect an animal’s ecology, even in phylogenetically unrelated species that share certain lifestyle characteristics. These data may pave the way for predicting cognitive function and/or more complex behavioral repertoires in fishes, with implications for how “intelligence” has evolved across vertebrates.