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New UF study shows some sharks follow 'mental map' to navigate seas
Date:3/9/2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. A new study led by a University of Florida researcher uses tracking data of three shark species to provide the first evidence some of the fish swim directly to targeted locations.

Researchers found tiger and thresher sharks showed the ability to orient at large distances, with tiger sharks swimming in direct paths at least 4 miles away and reaching specific resource areas about 30 miles away, said lead author Yannis Papastamatiou, a marine biologist in the division of ichthyology at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

A research highlight of the study in the current edition of the Journal of Animal Ecology will appear in the Thursday issue of the journal Nature.

"This study is important because it uses quantitative methods to try to understand the underlying ecological reasons for animal movement," said Kevin Weng, a marine biologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. "Studies such as this one are stepping stones to achieving predictive skill for animal movement, and better understanding of navigation, population dynamics and ecology."

Papastamatiou said the study suggests the sharks have developed a 'mental map' of the area.

"There's been several studies that have shown that marine predators, like sharks, penguins, turtles and tunas, move using particular types of random walks, but there's going to be times when these animals don't move randomly," Papastamatiou said. "This study shows that at times sharks are able to orient to specific features, and in the case of tiger sharks, the distance over which they're performing those directed walks is likely larger than the distance of the immediate range of their sensory systems."

Researchers use the term "directed walk" to describe when a shark is moving toward a known goal rather than randomly swimming.

Researchers re-analyzed tracking data from acoustic transmitters on nine tiger sharks off the south sh
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Contact: Yannis Papastamatiou
ypapastamatiou@flmnh.ufl.edu
352-273-1955
University of Florida
Source:Eurekalert

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