For some time now, scientists have been struggling to determine how are sharks capable of returning to familiar waters once the hunt is over. Many theories have emerged regarding the shark’s navigational capacity, but it would seem that one seems more plausible than the rest. According to the latest research, sharks use their smell for navigation.
In order to determine how a shark is capable of navigating through the environment, a team of marine biologists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography from California performed and experiment which involved several leopard sharks.
Andrew Nosal, the lead scientist of this project and also of postdoc, explained what the experiment entailed. Given the fact that there are many land and sea creatures that use their sense of smell in order to map out their environment, the researcher and his team wanted to find out if the leopard shark is capable of doing so.
And so, the lead researcher and his team captured several leopard shark from the coastal area and transported them approximately 6 miles from their original location. In order for the experiment to be accurate, half of the sharks have their nostrils covered with cotton, while the other half had their nostrils unobstructed.
According to their observations, the sharks with the unobstructed nostrils had no difficulty in finding their way back to the coastal region. As for the other group, according to the team’s statements, it would seem that they encountered some difficulties in navigating through their environment.
The leopard sharks with the covered nostrils seemed disoriented and groped around as if searching for something familiar. The team went on to theorize that the sharks use their enhanced sense of smell in order to detect the high concentration of particles found around the shore.
Although Nosal’s conclusions seem sound, there are a couple of marine biologists who criticize his conclusions. Some of them said that the sharks with the covered nostrils acted that way because they felt a foreign object in their body. Moreover, although they were a little confused, these sharks managed to find their way to the designated area.
Despite refuting parts of his hypothesis, most of the researchers agree that the shark is capable of using certain cues in the water, which he can use for navigation. They believe that the shark can use its nose in order to detect oscillations in the water’s temperature or pressure, but that it is highly unlikely for sharks to navigate their way through their environment guided by the high density of particles found around the shore.
Nosal agrees that he needs more data in order to discover how sharks navigate, but it does seem that the shark’s nose is very important in the process.