I like both jazz and classical music, but classical is my favourite. Sharks, on the other hand–or at least one group of baby sharks–appear to prefer jazz.
Scientists at Australia’s Macquarie University Fish Lab trained baby Port Jackson sharks to associate music with reward as part of a study published in the Animal Cognition journal.
The study’s lead author, Catarina Vila-Pouca, explained, “Sound is really important for aquatic animals; it travels well under water (four times faster than it travels in air) and fish use it to find food, hiding places and even to communicate.”
Like other fish, sharks are adept at honing in on sounds. In the experiment, the sharks responded well to food stations that played jazz. However, the sharks under-performed when confronted with classical music.
Associate professor Culum Brown said, “It was obvious that the sharks knew they had to do something different when the classical music was played, but they couldn’t figure out that they had to go to a different location.” Several stories about the experiment also mentioned that different sharks have different personalities.
Sharks have personalities? And respond differently to different kinds of music? Who knew?
I was still contemplating sharks with personalities when I read about Joey the crime-fighting squirrel in Idaho. Joey’s life did not begin auspiciously. Soon after he was born, even before his eyes were open, he was abandoned after falling out of his nest. Adam Pearl and his wife Carmen found him and took him in. They bought supplies and set an alarm every two hours to feed him. Joey thrived, and soon had the run of the house, learned to use a litterbox and scavenge from bowls of nuts. He was friendly and would let anyone pet him.
Until–a burglar broke into the Pearl home. When police went to their home to investigate the burglary, Joey introduced himself. A few hours later, police caught a burglary suspect with items from Pearl’s home and scratches on his hands.
The burglar told police a squirrel came flying out of nowhere and kept attacking him until he left.
Joey the crime-fighting squirrel made headlines. But after the burglary, Joey started to get aggressive.
One day when Joey seemed especially rambunctious, Adam Pearl decided to leave a sliding door open. Joey eventually ventured out, played with wild squirrels during the day and returned to his bed indoors at night.
And then one day, Joey climbed on Adam’s shoulder, getting his ears scratched for several minutes, and scampered away, out the door and up a backyard apple tree. He hasn’t been seen since. “I think that was his good-bye, looking back on it,” Adam said. “If I had to guess, he found a girlfriend and they’re off doing their squirrel thing.”
One intention of the shark experiments was to demonstrate that sharks are not just mindless instinctive animals. Reading about the experiment had that impact on me, so I guess it fulfilled its purpose with at least one person. Reading about Joey the crime-fighting squirrel made me think about how pets–even those who start as wild animals–will fiercely protect their humans. And how, ultimately (at least for Joey), their wild destiny trumps everything.
So what does this have to do with anything that matters on a spring day in East Central Alberta? Well, I just liked the stories and thought you might too.
But it’s also making me reflect how non-human and human animals have more in common than I realized–personalities and relationships and preferences. And how we must always remember that we too are biological creatures with biological drives and needs, totally dependent on the planet for our physical survival, and that our actions also impact our non-human fellow animals. We’re in this together.