For many years it was believed that only land vertebrates such as mammals and birds were capable of learning to make associations between different stimuli. These animals have an apparent neocortex which is thought to play a crucial role in the control of higher perceptual processes, cognitive functions and intelligent behavior. Over the last 60 years, research has shown that higher cognitive functions, including basic learning abilities, also occurs in teleosts and elasmobranchs. Globally, researchers are now conducting more research focused on understanding the learning and memory retention abilities of sharks.

Project Aims

Several pilot studies to investigate the learning abilities of endemic catsharks have been conducted in the Shark Lab. The primary aim of these studies has been to:

  1. investigate the learning capacity of catsharks when completing food-reward tasks through instrumental conditioning.
  • Hypothesis 1: catsharks can be trained to complete a food-reward task, where a target and an auditory cue act as stimuli.
  • Hypothesis 2: catsharks can be conditioned to the presence of the target and the auditory cue during a training period.
  • Hypothesis 3: individual catsharks will show the same learning abilities.

Research Techniques

Research is conducted in experimental tanks in the Shark Lab. Sharks are conditioned over a 72-hr period prior to first exposure to instrumental conditioning protocols. A system of targets and stimuli are employed to encourage sharks to complete simple food-reward tasks. Behavioral work is recorded using mounted camera systems for later analyses.