Visitors to the Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank at the New England Aquarium have the opportunity to interact with a variety of different cartilaginous fish on a daily basis. Currently we have eight different species of rays, and four species of sharks swimming around for your viewing and touching enjoyment! Should you be lucky enough to stop by this exhibit during feeding time, you might see one of our dedicated staff members feeding the residents a variety of restaurant quality seafood. Squid, fish, and shrimp are generally on menu, and the animals voraciously devour every morsel thrown their way. Yet, some curious visitors might be wondering, “How does a shark find food when it is out in the ocean, and are there particular adaptations that allow them to sense prey in the sea?”

epaulette shark in the shark and ray touch tank
Epaulette and bamboo sharks in the shark and ray touch tank
The Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank is home to four species of sharks.

Located along both sides of a shark’s body, the lateral line plays a major role in helping these cartilaginous animals find food. Although this line is sometimes discernable along the sides of fish, the main functions of the line take place in fluid filled canals just beneath the skin of the shark. Here are some examples of lateral lines that you might notice on fish around the Aquarium!

Jacks in the Giant Ocean Tank have a lateral line that can be easily seen.
Surgeon fish in the tropical gallery also sport these sensitive lines.

These canals are lined with tiny hairs that are extremely sensitive to the smallest vibrations emitted by shark prey. Injured or sick fish oftentimes swim erratically, and their movements are easily detected by the super-sensitive lateral line. As one of the shark’s main functions in the ocean is eating diseased or injured animals, the lateral line is an essential component for the detection of food.

During your next visit to the Aquarium, take a moment to stop by the Shark and Ray Touch Tank, and keep in mind the amazing adaptations that allow these animals to thrive in the vast expanse of the world’s oceans.