Sharks are not the big, dumb, bullies of the sea that you might suspect. Over the last 20 years, research into shark behavior has gotten more sophisticated and it's turned up some surprising findings about what's going on in the brains of these "mindless death fish from hell". To wit:
"There's a clear line between the higher and lower vertebrates in terms of brain-to-body weight," Gruber [Samuel Gruber from the University of Miami] explains. "Birds and mammals have a higher ratio; fish, amphibians and reptiles are lower. But sharks land above the line associated with these lower vertebrates. They've been independently evolving for half a billion years, and they have brains that are comparable to [those of] mammals in some ways."
His research showed that lemon sharks were able to remember a visual discrimination task for at least a year without retraining, and Gruber says they also showed spatial preferences akin to "handedness" in mammals.
That's pretty cool, especially given the fact that I just spent the past two weeks delving into the cognition and complex behavior of another underestimated class of sea creatures—cephalopods. It's enough to make me wish that Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus had been more heavily grounded in science. Instead of jumping up and biting a 747 in half, Mega Shark could have challenged Giant Octopus to a run through a Ginormous Maze in the laboratory of a Massive Psychology Researcher. I don't know about you, but I'd have watched that.
Scientific American: Today's Sharks: Smart, Tagged and In Short Supply
(Via John Pavlus, who, I just realized, is also the author of this piece. Good work, John!)
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.