• Question: I want to find out more about a sharks sixth sense:being able to locate electromagnetic pulses

    Asked by 425evnb35 to Adam, Emily, Steph, Thad, Thomas on 12 Mar 2015.
    • Photo: Thomas Clements

      Thomas Clements answered on 12 Mar 2015:

      Oh great question – I actually have a friend who studies sharks.

      Interestingly, it’s not just sharks that can do this but so can rays, eels, dolphins, bees, cockroaches and duck billed platypuses.

      In sharks, they have special organs called ampullae of Lorenzini. These sensors are in pores that allow seawater to touch them. This is important because they detect the difference in voltage from the base of the pore and the water. When something swims by, their muscle produce a type of static which creates an electric field. This then triggers the ampullae of Lorenzini.

      The ampullae of Lorenzini are connected to a system of nerves which in very simple terms are always ‘on’. If the ampullae of Lorenzini detect an electric field then the connected nerve actually turns ‘off’. This alerts the brain that something is in the water near the shark.

      They have hundreds and hundreds of these ampullae of Lorenzini in their snouts and along their lateral line. They are so powerful they can detect prey buried in the sand and navigate using the earths magnetic field. Amazing animals!

    • Photo: Thaddeus Aid

      Thaddeus Aid answered on 12 Mar 2015:


      I think Thomas covered this question really well, I just want to add that if you are really interested in sharks, why not stop by the library and pick up a couple of books? Or what a BBC documentary called The Blue Planet which you may also be able to get at the library.

      Good luck!

    • Photo: Stephanie Bryant

      Stephanie Bryant answered on 19 Mar 2015:

      There are some types of fish – like electric eels that can produce strong electric currents to zap and stun their prey. There are also fish that can produce weak electric currents to help with navigation, detecting objects including their prey (electrolocation) and communication with other electric fish! All of these electrogenic fish (fish that can generate electric fields) can also detect electric fields – just like the sharks!

      I did some fun work with weakly electric fish mapping out the shape of their electric fields – but it was really tricky because they kept moving and messing up my maps!