Sharks, it turns out, are very jazzy creatures.
That’s one way to look at a new study conducted by researchers at Australia’s Macquarie University.
Like many marine animals, sharks rely on sound for survival, but the Sydney researchers have discovered that these creatures may be more tuned into music than previously thought.
Or at least that’s what emerged when researchers paired the sound of music with food delivery in their study of young Port Jackson sharks first published in the journal Animal Cognition.
“There is some anecdotal evidence that sharks can associate the noise of outboard motors of boats and baiting in fishing and cage diving activities,” Catarina Vila-Pouca, the study’s main author told CNN.
So they decided to test if the sharks could learn to associate an artificial sound cue with the delivery of a food reward in a specific location.
The researchers played jazz music from speakers at one end of their tank and taught the sharks to go to a feeding station for a treat.
Most of the sharks were more inclined to swim towards the corner where the music was playing.
“We initially tested if they could associate the jazz song with food. Five out of the eight sharks did, and so we did a follow up experiment with these five to see if they could learn to distinguish between jazz versus classical music,” said Vila-Pouca.
However, it would appear these five sharks didn’t appreciate the structured sounds of classical music and preferred the improvisational flair of jazz.
Even though the sharks were taught to swim towards an specific feeding area, when the classical music played, they didn’t swim towards it.
“If the jazz song played, they would go to the same feeding area. If the classical music played, they would go to an opposite area,” Vila-Pouca confirmed.
The study provides insight into how noise may be affecting marine habitats.
According to the National Ocean Service, since sound waves travel well underwater and are highly directional, many animals use sounds for communication, orientation and navigation, and to find prey and mate.
With increasing human activity in the water, which boosts the amount of sound pollution, the way marine animals use sound might be impaired.
This study can also shed some light into how sharks learn and how their personalities differ.
“We’ve found out all sorts of cool things about the behavior of sharks,” said Culum Brown, a researcher and an associate professor at Macquarie University. “They have best friends [and] personalities. [They] migrate over vast distances and have amazing spatial learning capacities.”
The researchers have been researching shark behavior for about six years. They conducted this study over the course of four months, and say that the results should reflect the habits of most sharks.
“We hope our research can help people empathize more with sharks and understand how fantastic and complex animals they are,” said Vila-Pouca.