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What's it like to be a shark?

It’s easy to talk about sharks -- what they do, where they go, all of that. We can even sort of imagine what it would be like to act like a shark: we can imagine swimming in deep waters, maybe, or coasting through the sea. But even recreating what a shark does doesn’t get to the question: what is it like to be a shark?


A good place to start is with what sharks feel. For instance, they have all the same sense that many humans do: they can see, hear, feel and taste. Everybody has heard that a shark's sense of smell is amazing, that they can smell small amounts of blood from incredible distances.

But their sense of hearing is also extreme. In some studies sharks have been able to detect sounds from over a mile away! They are accustomed to hearing sounds which are very low -- about 40 Hz, which is at the very low end of what humans can hear. This hearing range lets them hear the sudden movements of sea life which is likely injured, allowing them to find prey at a distance.

More than having an extraordinary grasp of our best known five senses, sharks have two more than us. For one, they are able to detect very small vibrations in the current of water. For the other, they are able to detect very faint amounts of electromagnetic fields.

What are these used for? Well, since sharks have a difficult time using their eyes to see what is immediately in front of them, they often use vibrations within the water to detect movement of prey. That is, when a shark cannot see it’s prey it can ‘feel’ its movement through the water’s vibrations.

The electromagnetic detection of sharks might be the coolest super-power that the creature has. Using a complex portion of its nervous system, called the Ampullae of Lorenzini (see below), sharks can detect very, very small electromagnetic fields. This gives them several abilities.

One is that sharks can navigate based upon the Earth’s electromagnetic field, which might explain why they are such precise navigators. Another use is that sharks can use this to detect small electromagnetic fields of oceanic life around them. For instance, hammerhead sharks use both water’s vibrations as well as electromagnetic fields to find various prey that are buried under sand.


This is how Shark OFF's shark repellent jewelry works: through creating electromagnetic fields in the water, sharks are wary to come near.


Their sense organs are overwhelmed by the relative strength of the bands, and so they want to immediately get away from the swimmer who wears it! Learn more about how this technology works here.

So back to the question at hand: what is it like to be a shark? Well, after seeing that some of their sense are far more powerful than ours, as well as the fact that they have some completely different sensory experiences than us, we have to admit that we really have no idea what it is like to be a shark. We can try to imagine it: we are swimming around listening closely for movements around us an trying to ‘feel’ some magnetic field -- but this simply isn’t possible for us.

The question leaves us with a curious mystery. We can never know what it is like to be a shark, but we can know that it is vastly different from what it is like to be a human. These ancient creatures have seemed to develop a lot of unique skills that are, in many ways, much cooler than anything we can do. Shouldn’t we respect that?

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