Leopard Sharks Navigate With Their Noses, Study Reveals New Findings

First Posted: Jan 07, 2016 03:10 PM EST

Researchers found that leopard sharks use their nose to navigate straight paths between distant sites in the ocean, according to a study at the University California, San DiegoThe researchers used shoreward navigation by leopard sharks to test whether or not olfaction contributes to their ocean navigation.

They gathered 25 leopard sharks, which were captured alongshore. Half of the sharks' sense of smell was temporarily impaired and they were dispatched 9 km offshore, where they were tracked for four hours each.

The sharks with no impairment of their sense of smell were 62.6 percent closer to shore after a four hour period of tracking, where they followed straight paths. However, the tracks for the sharks with impaired smell ended 37.2 percent closer to shore, where they had twisted and wondering paths.

The researchers concluded that olfaction was responsible for the sharks' navigation in the ocean and it is also aids to sharks' ability to sense chemical gradients in the water.

"Although chemical cues apparently guide sharks through the ocean, other sensory cues likely also play a role," Andrew Nosal, coauthor of the study, said in a news release. "Future work must determine which environmental cues are most important for navigation and how they are detected and integrated."

The findings of this study were published in the journal PLUS ONE.

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