Research scientists at Macquarie University Fish Lab in Sydney, Australia, have found evidence to suggest that sharks can associate sounds with food in a similar manner to Pavlov’s dogs. Where Pavlov used the sound of a bell to experiment with dogs and conditional behavioral responses, the scientists in Australia played a jazz song to sharks for much the same reason. According to the report on the website for Macquarie University, the sharks actually picked on on this. The result was, when played a jazz song, these sharks swam to the exact feeding area.
Many people associate all sharks as mindless eating machines, possibly bringing to mind the tune of Jaws theme music when at the beach or an aquarium, maybe even jokingly humming it at a friend or family member. Marine biologists and researchers, such as those at Macquarie University, want people to see that this idea is far from the truth. A fact they claim in the report by saying this new research has “shown sharks are much more sophisticated than most people imagine.”
Baby Port Jackson sharks were used in the experiment. Catarina Vila-Pouca from the Department of Biological Sciences was the lead author for the findings. She explained that sound travels well under water, and is often used by fish and other aquatic life in their daily activities.
“Sound is really important for aquatic animals, it travels well under water and fish use it to find food, hiding places and even to communicate.”
Often during cage diving activities, researchers and divers have stated that it was suggested sharks associate the sound of boat engines with food. This recent finding, involving around sharks, jazz, sound associations, conditioning, and an attempt to stop discrimination against sharks, has been published in Animal Cognition.
During this musical shark feeding experiment, the scientists played both jazz and classical music. Music would be played near the feeding area, and eventually sharks seemed to associate the jazz music specifically with food. Associate Professor Culum Brown of the Department of Biological Sciences and the leader of the Fish Lab noted the same could not be said for these same five sharks when it came to classical music.
“It was obvious that the sharks knew that they had to do something when the classical music was played, but they couldn’t figure out that they had to go to a different location.”
In fact, the scientists tried to be tricky with the sharks, to truly find out how well the association was working. In an effort to rule out variables, they played the music in two different locations, each one a different genre paired with a food reward. Professor Brown said the task was “harder than it seemed” and believes that with more time and training, the sharks would have figured it out even more so.