Here’s the latest breaking news all the way from Australia. Sharks like to kick back to the sounds of Herbie Hancock, even some Wynton Marsalis, but generally sneer at any Bach, Brahms or Beethoven.
Researchers at Sydney’s Macquarie University have discovered that sharks can recognise jazz music but are confused by classical music.
What’s all this got to do with the price of fish, you might reasonably ask, and you would be right too except that Sydney’s restaurant owners, emboldened by the news, have begun charging more for shark’s fin soup on the reasonable grounds that a Herbie Hancock-appreciating fish was surely more desirable than one that liked, say, Conway Twitty?
“What’s all this got to do with the price of fish”? demanded the Australian government indignantly, appalled that taxpayer funds were being used to find out stuff that seemed as relevant as the previous shark finding from the same Macquarie University.
The aforementioned 2015 finding, however, did cause a frisson of excitement to ripple through Australia’s surfing community after said university discovered that the mushy stuff between the teeth of great white sharks was, almost always, a slow swimmer.
More seriously, the shark research addressed issues of animal cognition. For sheer mindlessness of research though, the prize goes to a 2015 “anti-hysteria” kit that a local Malaysian university claimed could ward off “evil spirits” for the whopping price of RM8,700 a pop.
To the bewilderment of psychiatrists from Guatemala to Greenland, the kit used such cutting-edge paraphernalia as chopsticks, salt, lime, pepper spray and formic acid.
Reuters reported the whole pseudo-scientific, tragi-comedy with a straight face and a stiff upper lip but, mercifully, little has been reported about the kit or its creator since.
Australians tend to take sharks seriously as there are at least 10-20 shark attacks in the country every year. Here, the Aussies would be well advised to take to heart an interesting piece of cutting-edge research from no less than Saturday Night Live.
Researchers there have found that sharks only attack a person if said person is wet.
Back to the original research in question.
The Macquarie researchers, led by Catarina Vila Pouca, trained juvenile Port Jackson sharks to swim over to where jazz was playing, to receive food. It has been thought that sharks have learned to associate the sound of a boat engine with food, because food is often thrown from tourist boats to attract sharks to cage-diving expeditions – the study shows that they can learn these associations quickly.
The addition of classical music, however, confused the sharks which couldn’t differentiate between the two musical genres.
Vila Pouca added: “Sharks are generally underestimated when it comes to learning abilities – most people see them as mindless, instinctive animals. However, they have really big brains and are obviously much smarter than we give them credit for.”
Anyone who’s seen the film Jaws would probably go for both the “big brains” as well as the “mindless, instinctive animal” theory. To put the great white shark in its complete, brutal perspective, the original name suggested for the Peter Benchley-written film was Gnaws.