Sharks On A Leash: Can Sharks Be Trained?

can sharks be trained

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Sharks are well-known for being some of the most perfectly adapted marine predators on the planet.

With large, razor-sharp teeth that can shred through bone like butter and an electromagnetic sense that can detect their prey’s heartbeat, it’s no wonder they’re feared by many.

In fact, a 2015 study showed that 51% of Americans are terrified of sharks. It’s clear to see why when you look at species like the Great white shark or Bull shark.

But what if some sharks could learn particular skills and behaviors that make them less menacing and more predictable? This brings up the question “can sharks be trained?”

YES, sharks are highly intelligent animals and some species are capable of being trained. Granted, you won’t be able to teach a Great white to “sit”, but you can certainly teach a Nurse shark to roll over.

Let’s take a closer look…

Are Sharks Trainable?

This may come as a surprise to many, but sharks are actually very trainable animals that can be taught to recognize colors, shapes, and even how to complete tasks months or even years later.

Sharks are a lot more intelligent than they are often given credit for. They have large brains and are capable of complex behaviors, which is why many species are top marine predators.

can sharks be trained
Image: Tind via Flickr

Whilst mainstream Hollywood will have you believe sharks and mindless killing machines, this is really not the case.

Sharks are a vital part of marine ecosystems and without them, animal populations would become out of control and sick or injured marine life would be rife without sharks controlling the populations.

Why Do Some Aquariums Train Sharks?

Many different species of sharks are trained all over the world in aquariums for a number of reasons.

While training sharks may seem bizarre at first, it’s a great way of desensitizing captive sharks to humans and getting these animals comfortable with their trainers.

Shark training helps these animals become accustomed to people and helps to build up trust and a bond between the shark and its handler.

This makes it easy for the staff at aquariums to measure the sharks, as well as perform any medical treatment that they may need.

Sharks can also be stretcher trained which makes veterinary care for the animals easy, ensuring they can get the care they need when they need it.

Which Species Of Sharks Can Be Trained?

There are a number of different species of shark that can be trained, including hammerhead sharks, lemon sharks, tiger sharks, nurse sharks, silvertip sharks, and more.

All of these sharks can be trained to a surprisingly high standard which makes working with these animals in captivity easy.

There are some species that are simply unable to be trained, such as the Great white shark for example.

This animal has never been held successfully in captivity and probably never will.

In 2016, Japan’s Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium received a Great white shark that was caught off the coast of Japan.

However, after a couple of days of swimming around its tank and ramming its head into the wall, the 11.5-foot white shark died.

How Are Sharks Trained?

There’s no real handbook on how to train sharks, so it’s something that aquariums have had to trial and error over time to see which techniques work best.

One aquarium that has been successful in doing this is Georgia Aquarium. They use a variety of techniques to train many different species of sharks to follow targets.

The methods used for one species may be ineffective for another, so it’s all about persistence and adapting training programs to each species as it develops.

Sharks don’t necessarily see the same as we do, but we do know that they can see contrasts between colors and light.

When trainers begin training sharks, they typically use a ball light that is on the end of a rod that has black contrasted spots on it so that the shark is able to see it.

The process to get a shark trained to go to a target is to first associate that target with food.

Over time, trainers will increase the distance between when the shark sees the target and start following it to when they receive the food.

The sharks start to understand that this target is associated with food, and therefore will follow the target that is directed by the trainer.

Are Sharks Smart Enough To Be Trained?

YES, sharks are most certainly smart enough to be trained. They are capable of so much more than people give them credit for, and scientists are now starting to witness this firsthand with new training methods.

Sharks are highly intelligent animals that are inquisitive in nature and capable of being trained to a high standard with repetition and reinforcement.

Some species are capable of problem-solving and can even remember the solution to the problem up to a year later.

trained shark
Image: Pete Scheffield via Flickr

It’s easy to dismiss sharks and other marine animals as mindless animals that are not intelligent, but it’s surprising how intelligent marine life really is, including sharks, fish, whales, and more.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, I’ve answered your question of “can sharks be trained” and you now have a better understanding of how intelligent and capable sharks are.

Sharks can be trained to recognize shapes and colors, exhibit behaviors, follow targets, and solve problems.

Some species are at the top of the food chain in the ocean, and you’ve got to wonder how they got there and stay there.

They’re intelligent animals that we’re only now just starting to learn a lot more about with aquariums starting to push the limits on what these animals are capable of.

Until next time.