Food approach conditioning and discrimination learning using sound cues in benthic sharks

Catarina Vila Pouca*, Culum Brown

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    15 Citations (Scopus)


    The marine environment is filled with biotic and abiotic sounds. Some of these sounds predict important events that influence fitness while others are unimportant. Individuals can learn specific sound cues and ‘soundscapes’ and use them for vital activities such as foraging, predator avoidance, communication and orientation. Most research with sounds in elasmobranchs has focused on hearing thresholds and attractiveness to sound sources, but very little is known about their abilities to learn about sounds, especially in benthic species. Here we investigated if juvenile Port Jackson sharks could learn to associate a musical stimulus with a food reward, discriminate between two distinct musical stimuli, and whether individual personality traits were linked to cognitive performance. Five out of eight sharks were successfully conditioned to associate a jazz song with a food reward delivered in a specific corner of the tank. We observed repeatable individual differences in activity and boldness in all eight sharks, but these personality traits were not linked to the learning performance assays we examined. These sharks were later trained in a discrimination task, where they had to distinguish between the same jazz and a novel classical music song, and swim to opposite corners of the tank according to the stimulus played. The sharks’ performance to the jazz stimulus declined to chance levels in the discrimination task. Interestingly, some sharks developed a strong side bias to the right, which in some cases was not the correct side for the jazz stimulus.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)481–492
    Number of pages12
    JournalAnimal Cognition
    Issue number4
    Early online date24 Apr 2018
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018


    • elasmobranch
    • behaviour
    • cognition
    • associative learning
    • personality
    • hearing


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