Magazine article Oceanus

For Sharks, the Nose Knows

Magazine article Oceanus

For Sharks, the Nose Knows

Article excerpt


Sharks do follow their noses to zero in on prey--but only one nostril at a time. When sharks catch a whiff of a potential meal, timing is everything: They will head in the direction of the nostril that caught the scent first--even when the other nostril detects higher concentrations of the odor.

A new study by Jayne Gardiner of the University of South Florida and Jelle Atema of Boston University and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution refutes the prevailing theory that sharks follow the strongest scent when hunting prey.

Timing can be a much more reliable tool than odor strength, Atema explained, because odors do not travel in coherent plumes in the ocean. "The plume breaks up into pieces, floats to different levels and gets transported in a current," he said.

Most often, sharks will hit an odor patch at an angle rather than straight on. By veering in the direction of the nostril that first encounters the odor, the shark will automatically steer into the odor patch. The difference in timing between when each nostril catches a scent can be as small as a tenth of a second.

The research team performed the sensory experiments on smooth dogfish sharks (Mustelus canis), a small species fairly common in waters off New England. …

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