Scientists at Australia’s Macquarie University Fish Lab have found that the fish are able to associate music with food rewards – and jazz is more their bag than classical.
The researchers trained baby Port Jackson sharks to associate music with reward as part of a study published in the Animal Cognition journal.
They found the sharks learned to go to a feeding station far better when played jazz music than other kinds of songs.
“Sound is really important for aquatic animals; it travels well under water and fish use it to find food, hiding places and even to communicate,” said the study’s lead author, Catarina Vila-Pouca, from the university’s department of biological sciences.
Although the reports are only anecdotal, the researchers have noted stories suggesting that sharks can associate the sound of boat engines with good.
While the sharks reacted well to jazz, associate professor Culum Brown said they under-performed when confronted with classical music.
“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,” he said.
“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.
Ms Vila-Pouca said: “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.
“Gaining a better understanding of this will help grow positive public opinion of sharks and may shift public and political will towards their conservation.”