Researchers investigate fishy sense of smell (w/ Video)

May 4, 2010
Jonathan Cox (right) and student Jonathan White (left) lower the model into the flow tank

( -- As every Jaws fan knows, sharks can smell a drop of blood from up to a kilometre away, but how are their noses so sensitive?

Research led by the University of Bath is using the latest technology to find out how these fish are able to sniff out their prey.

Dr Jonathan Cox from the University’s Department of Chemistry has been working with researchers from the University of Cambridge and the Natural History Museum in London, testing a scale model of a in a flow tank to see how the water flows around the nasal cavity of its strange flattened head.

The researchers did a of a shark’s head from the Natural History Museum’s collection. The scan was used to make an accurate model of the head and nasal cavity with a . The model featured recently on BBC2’s Museum of Life series about the Natural History Museum.

The video will load shortly.

This is the first time a detailed model of a hammerhead shark’s head has been made to study the creature’s amazing . The research is published this month in the scientific journal Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology.

Dr Jonathan Cox said: “Whereas humans use their lungs like a bellows to inhale air through their noses to smell, the hammerhead shark smells as it swims forwards, propelling water through its .

“The nasal cavity of the hammerhead is like a labyrinth of pipes, with a central U-shaped channel and lots of smaller channels leading off it. The smaller channels contain the olfactory receptors, and so we’re looking at how the water flows through these channels as the shark swims forwards.

“Sharks sweep their heads from side to side when they swim, so to simulate this we change the angle of the head model in the tank and observe the flow at each angle.”

The researchers are using a flow tank to observe how water flows into the nasal cavity of the shark

Dr Timothy Nickels, Reader in Experimental Fluid Mechanics at the University of Cambridge said: “We are really excited to be involved in this project - it’s a perfect example of the strength of interdisciplinary research, with Jonathan providing the in-depth knowledge of shark olfaction whilst we contribute in measuring and understanding the fluid mechanics side of the processes.

“It turns out that our skills and facilities are ideal for this work although, until Jonathan came along we had no idea about this area of research. We’re looking forward to developing this collaboration further in the future.”

Dr Richard Abel, from London’s Natural History Museum, added: “This exciting study manages to combine cutting edge 3D imaging of 200-year-old museum specimens, with wild observations of living sharks and experimental flow research to determine how hammerhead nostrils function. The findings will aid the design of green bio-mimetic technology.”

The scientists hope their research could be used in the future to design chemical sensors for underwater exploration, medicine and counter-terrorism.

Explore further: Great hammerhead shark sets litter record

Related Stories

Ocean's fiercest predators now vulnerable to extinction

February 17, 2008

The numbers of many large shark species have declined by more than half due to increased demand for shark fins and meat, recreational shark fisheries, as well as tuna and swordfish fisheries, where millions of sharks are ...

Wide heads give hammerheads exceptional stereo view

November 27, 2009

Hammerhead sharks are some of the Ocean's most distinctive residents. 'Everyone wants to understand why they have this strange head shape,' says Michelle McComb from Florida Atlantic University. One possible reason is the ...

As sharks dwindle, new laws enacted

May 28, 2007

Shark fisheries in Mexico and throughout the world are dealing with proposed rules to curb shark hunting in the interest of preserving these predators.

Protection for 2 shark species fails at UN meeting

March 23, 2010

(AP) -- Asian nations on Tuesday blocked U.S.-backed proposals to protect the heavily fished hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks on concerns that regulating the booming trade in fins could hurt poor coastal nations.

Study: Shark attacks declining

February 13, 2006

University of Florida scientists say shark attacks worldwide were lower in number last year, continuing a five-year downturn.

Recommended for you

Destabilization processes in foam

September 19, 2017

Oktoberfest is an exciting cultural event, but it is also a source of inspiration for materials scientists and engineers. Not the beer itself, but rather the beer foam is a source of inspiration.

Solar-to-fuel system recycles CO2 to make ethanol and ethylene

September 18, 2017

Scientists at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have harnessed the power of photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide into fuels and alcohols at efficiencies far greater than plants. ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.