Sharks have highly developed senses, which they use to find food and avoid danger. They have the same 5 senses as we do, plus a couple more...!


SMELL:

A large part of a shark's brain power is used for smelling. Showing how important this is to their survival. When they suck water into their nostrils, sensory cells detect chemicals in the water and send a signal to the brain. The brain then identifies the smell.

Sharks are super-sensitive to the scents of predators, prey or a mate. And respond strongly to smells made by injured or distressed prey.


SIGHT:

Shark eyes are very much like ours. Although they can see 10X better than we can in the dark. They have a light sensitive layer at the back of their eye, called the retina. This contains millions of microscopic rod cells, which help them see in low light. Some sharks also have cone cells, so can see in colour.

In the dark, shark eyes seem to have a green glow. Just like a cat's. This is because they have a layer of shiny cells behind the retina, known as the ‘tapetum lucidum’. This helps nocturnal and deepwater sharks to see and hunt in dark waters.


SOUND:

Sound travels a lot faster underwater than on land. And sharks have a very good sense of hearing, being able to detect even the faintest of vibrations. Sound is often the first sense they'll use to find prey.

Their ears lie just behind their eyes. Hidden under the skin. You can only see them as 2 small holes. Sound waves cause tiny hairs within the ears to vibrate, and their brain then interprets the sound. Sharks are particularly attracted to sounds from distressed or wounded prey.


TOUCH:

Sharks have many nerve endings under their skin that are very sensitive to touch. Some species also have barbels around their mouth, which look a bit like whiskers. These are used to search the sand for prey.

Their teeth are also very sensitive to touch, containing many pressure sensitive nerves. Lacking hands to feel, a curious shark will often use their teeth. You'll often see them biting objects but this isn’t aggression, they’re exploring.


TASTE:

Sharks can taste if something is bitter, sweet, salty or sour. If they don't like how something tastes they'll spit it out. Besides tasting with their mouths, sharks also have taste-sensitive spots all over their bodies. This means they can rub up against another object and know what it tastes like. Incredible!


ELECTRORECEPTION:

Covering the shark's snout are lots of small pores called 'ampullae of Lorenzini'. These contain hair cells and a jelly that detect tiny electrical currents. Sharks use this to build an electrical 'map' of their surroundings. It also allows them to find prey and avoid predators.

They can even detect the Earth's geomagnetic field, helping them navigate the oceans. So, have their very own built in sat nav! How cool is that?


PRESSURE CHANGES:

Sharks have the amazing ability of sensing pressure changes. Thanks to their Lateral Line. A row of small pores that runs all the way from their snout to the tip of their tail. Surrounding water flows through these and special sensory cells detect any pressure differences.

This helps them to detect prey and avoid predators. As they move their body creates waves that bounce off obstacles, such as reefs. This creates a 3D pressure map of their surroundings. There's no human equivalent, because air isn't dense enough to feel pressure differences.


Related Links:

Shark Biology

► Top Sharks - find out which shark is the fastest, largest, weirdest, and more...

► Sharks in Danger - find out about the biggest threats currently facing sharks

► Take Action - find out how you can help sharks