The Insane Biology Of A Shark’s Brain

Some movie-makers would have you believe that sharks aren’t particularly intelligent – that they survive thanks to instinct alone, constantly in pursuit of their next meal.

And while it’s true that sharks are fantastic predators with incredible instincts and a real drive for survival, studies have shown that that is not the case.

The Insane Biology Of A Sharks Brain

And as more time and resources become devoted to looking into this, it has become clear that sharks have a considerable intellectual capacity.

In this article, I’m gonna tell you all about the brain of the Great White Shark, and its various functions. I’ll also cover the difference between intelligence and instinct, seeing as they’re not the same thing and can get confused.

By the end of the article, when you get to the wrap up, you’ll be able to show off your new-found knowledge of the shark brain.

Please feel free to scroll ahead to any section that jumps out at you. Here goes!

The Brain Of The Great White Shark!

(For the purposes of this article, I’m going to concentrate on the brain of the great white shark, as it makes for a good representative.) 

The first thing you’ll notice about the brain of a great white shark is just how different it looks to a human brain, both in size and in shape. It’s about 60 cm long!

And while that sure sounds big, you also have to consider that it’s actually in proportion to the rest of the shark’s body, which is typically about 5 meters long. So the shark’s brain is just over a tenth the size of its body.

But the sheer size of its brain doesn’t mean that it’s more intelligent than us humans. It is not so much the size of a brain that determines its intelligence, so much as it’s the number of connections between the various brain cells.

That said, it appears that sharks that feed at the bottom (which don’t need to approach their prey in a stealthy manner) have smaller, more lightweight brains than their counterparts who have to hunt for their dinner.

As for the shape, it’s starkly different to that of humans…

Human brains are folded into a fairly round mass, but shark brains are unraveled and the various parts, such as the forebrain, midbrain and hindbrain are all visible to the naked eye during autopsy.

The shark brain is Y-shaped, with the various regions appearing like a string of tightly knotted pearls. It’s also hollow in several places, too.

But these hollow areas, called ventricles, are important for brain function because they are full of cerebrospinal fluid, which is important for the regulation of brain chemistry.

Sensory Perception Of The Shark Brain

Approximately 60% of the shark’s brain, possibly more, is devoted entirely to sensory perception and the five senses. The shark’s sense of smell is particularly highly developed…

A shark’s sense of smell is picked up by the olfactory tracts, and these feature lamallae, which gives those cells a greater surface area, making its neural response particularly sensitive.

It is through these olfactory tracts that the shark learns about what’s around them, whether it be a potential mate, potential prey, or whether they moved from saltwater to freshwater, and so on.

Other Functions Of The Shark Brain

The shark brain has a whole bunch of other jobs besides depicting different smells. They can let the shark know when it needs to rest, when it’s hungry and in need of food, and it can detect different electromagnetic fields and pulses.

But all this brain activity is not solely for automatic, instinctual behavior, and in recent times, more discoveries are being made about shark’s curiosity, which suggests intelligence, in addition to instinct. Which leads nicely onto the next section.

Difference Between Intelligence And Instinct

Instinctual behavior is merely a series of automatic responses, and this is a phenomenon that all animals experience from birth.

Intelligent behavior on the other hand is learned, and an example of this would be the shark’s ability to assess their circumstances and form a decision based on said assessment. 

This decision-making takes place in the shark brain’s cerebral hemisphere, which is the same region that conscious thought takes place in a human brain.

Sharks are more intelligent than a lot of the other sea creatures out there, which is really what makes them such excellent predators.

Wrap Up

It’s probably no surprise to most that sharks get by on intelligence as well as instinct. But their brains are so different from ours that it’s well worth examining. Hope you’ve enjoyed this brief explanation!

Mikayla Adams