I was curious, I often think of sharks as instinct-driven. Is there any evidence of learning or distinct individual behavior?
Wow, I have no idea how I didn’t see this until now! Sorry about that!
This is actually a really, really interesting question. Scientists had, for a really, really long time, basically assumed that sharks were mindless, instinctual killing machines.
However, in the 1950s, Eugenie Clark, my favorite scientist ever, did some experiments where she actually trained lemon sharks to respond to a stimulus. Basically, the sharks learned to press a target and ring a bell in order to get food.
This awesome lady also trained nurse sharks to distinguish between different colored targets to get food.
There have also been studies that have shown scalloped hammerheads, which travel in large schools, actually have pretty complex social structures! There are established hierarchies based on size and gender.
There was even a recent study that suggested that sharks have “friends”- that is, other sharks that they prefer to spend time with! AND that sharks are actually able to learn behaviors from the sharks they spend a lot of time with! (This study is actually really, really cool, and you can read an article about it here!)
So, yeah. Sharks don’t really have “thoughts” or “feelings” like humans do, but they’re definitely way smarter than most people think! They sort of do have different personalities (some tend to be more aggressive, some individuals more mellow, some more adventurous, more social, etc).
Of course, they are really driven by their instincts, but then, so is everything. But that definitely doesn’t mean they aren’t smart, or capable of some really amazing behaviors!!