Sharks and Their Sixth Sense
In the far reaches of the Indo-Pacific, a white-spotted bamboo shark swims lazily along the edge of a coral reef, pausing on occasion to survey its clear blue undersea habitat. As it makes a pass over a seemingly innocuous area of sand, the shark suddenly stops and frantically begins searching the ocean floor, kicking up a billowing cloud of white gravel. Moments later the shark emerges from the opaque sand cloud with a wriggling crab clutched in its tiny jaws. The seemingly prey-free expanse has yielded a tasty snack for the hungry predator. Yet, how does a shark like the white-spotted bamboo find prey so easily, even when it is buried in the sand? The answer lies in an examination of special sensory organs located in the head and snout of the fish.
These organs, known as the ampullae of Lorenzini, provide all of the information that the shark needs to locate a well-hidden crab. Take a look at the tiny pores that stretch across the underside of a Tiger Shark’s nose:
These pores contain hyper-sensitive gel that is particularly sensitive to the electricity generated by shark prey. All living things generate small electric fields, and the ampullae of Lorenzini make sharks especially adept at noticing even the most minuscule electric disruption in the water or sand. Can you spot the ampullae of Lorenzini on this chain cat shark, one of the stars of our new Science of Sharks exhibit?
During your next visit to the Aquarium, take a moment to stop by the Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank, as well as the Science of Sharks exhibit. The shark diversity showcased in the West Wing of the Aquarium is truly something to behold. While you’re exploring, remember to look closely at each shark that you encounter, and marvel at the amazing adaptations that allow these animals to thrive in the sea.