Shark Navigator

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Thinking of taking a GPS-powered navigational device on your next road trip? Why not let a shark “ride shotgun” instead?

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Research published in the Journal of Animal Ecology describes the “mental maps” that certain shark species rely on to find exact destinations with pinpoint accuracy. According to the study, the sharks can locate specific food sources from as far as 30 miles (50 km) away. The finding comes from acoustic transmitters attached to the sharks.

According to the study, the sharks can locate specific food sources from as far as 30 miles (50 km) away.

Confirming the ability exists in varying degrees in both tiger sharks and thresher sharks (but not in blacktip reef sharks), the scientists ran statistical tests to confirm that the accuracy wasn’t just an accident; the sharks were indeed “navigating” to the destination. And although sharks see fairly well, many of the precise journeys took place at night—in total darkness beneath the waves.

While the researchers have several hunches, it isn’t clear how the sharks are able to find their way around so well. One possibility is that the sharks rely on their ability to sense the earth’s magnetic field, but the team also suggests that water temperature, smells, or signals from ocean currents may play a role. Whatever the case, “[t]hey have to have a pretty good navigation system because the distances are great,” noted research leader Yannis Papastamatiou of the Florida Museum of Natural History.

The more we learn about the animals we share the earth with, the more we can see God’s hand in the incredible designs that allow some animals to exhibit sophisticated behavior almost unfathomable to us. Although sharks’ predation reminds us of the consequence of the Fall of man, their built-in “GPS” reminds us of Creation Week.

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