Sharks Love Jazz but are Stumped by Classical, Say Scientists

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Fluke Ellington … a Port Jackson shark, the kind used in the jazz study. Photograph: David Fleetham/Alamy

Researchers at Sydney’s Macquarie University have discovered that sharks can recognise jazz music.

In a paper published in Animal Cognition, the researchers, led by Catarina Vila Pouca, trained juvenile Port Jackson sharks to swim over to where jazz was playing, to receive food. It has been thought that sharks have learned to associate the sound of a boat engine with food, because food is often thrown from tourist boats to attract sharks to cage-diving expeditions – the study shows that they can learn these associations quickly.

The test was made more complex with the addition of classical music – this confused the sharks, who couldn’t differentiate between jazz and classical. “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,” said researcher Culum Brown. “The task is harder than it sounds, because the sharks had to learn that different locations were associated with a particular genre of music, which was then paired with a food reward. Perhaps with more training, they would have figured it out.”

Vila Pouca added: “Sharks are generally underestimated when it comes to learning abilities – most people see them as mindless, instinctive animals. However, they have really big brains and are obviously much smarter than we give them credit for.” She said that the evidence would hopefully prompt more conservation work.

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