Scientists had always wanted to know how sharks make their ways home in the vast open ocean, and they have offered a lot of theories that turned out to be speculations. Now a team of scientists submit a fact that indicates sharks’ acute sense of smell may play a part in guiding them home to familiar grounds - the National Geographic states.
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It is common knowledge that sharks migrate a lot, and great white sharks have often been found swimming from Hawaii to California while salmon sharks are known to move between the coast of Alaska and the subtropical Pacific.
Some groups of marine scientists had earlier theorized that sharks must have been navigating back home by smelling odor cues or by sensing the Earth’s magnetic fields – but no one was sure of anything.
In carrying out their experiments, researchers took wild leopard sharks to nearly 6 miles or 10 km from their usual playgrounds – and having fitted them with tracking devices, released them back into the waters after stuffing the noses of some of them with cotton wools.
After 30 minutes of placing the sharks in the wrong locations, those without stuffed noses made a corrective U-turn and found their ways home easily while those with stuffed nostrils strayed a lot before finding their ways home.
According to Andrew Nosal, a postdoctoral researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Birch Aquarium in La Jolla, California, the sharks with clogged noses appeared momentarily lost and were slow-moving as they found their ways home than those without any nose clogs.
Usually found along the coast of Washington State to northern Mexico, leopard sharks were used for the study; and the study was reported in the journal PLOS ONE.
Some skeptics such as Kim Holland, a marine biologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa thinks the leopard sharks with plugged noses must have been initially lost because due to the fact that a sudden feeling of plugged noses must have confounded them. And a sensory biologist at the New College of Florida, Jayne Gardiner, believes the sharks could have been following an odor that came from land or their known homes.
Nosal concludes that whether the sharks are sniffing something that attracts them from their home habitats or following environmental cues such as temperature or light levels, scientists think sharks must have been playing up their sense of smells to find their ways home.
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Nosal disagrees that the plugged noses may have distracted the sharks in any way, because this did not stop them from feeding naturally.