Do Sharks Have Ears? (Hunting & Hearing)

Photo: Daryl Duda / Shutterstock

For over 400 million years, sharks have existed and dominated the seas. These saltwater fish are large, fast, and great hunters with unique senses. There are over 500 species of sharks in the world. 

Sharks do have ears and excellent hearing. They rely on their keen senses, including hearing, to hunt for food. A shark’s ear looks different from human ears as they don’t have a large outer shape.

How Do Sharks Hear?

It does not take a lot of effort for a shock to hear sounds, vibrations, and pitches feed away.

A shark’s inner ear has three chambers and an ear stone. The chambers echo sounds making it easier to hunt for food.

Another important part of a shark’s ear is the aural cavity. The shark’s aural cavity is linked directly to its mouth and detects low-frequency vibrations with ease.

Sound waves travel into a shark’s inner ear, also known as an external acoustic meatus, and the brain interprets the sound.

Sharks hear frequencies with a range of 20-300 Hz, but prefer and react to ranges that are irregular or below 40 Hz.

Tiny hairs, called stereocilia, vibrate inside of a shark’s ears and are redirected to the brain to interpret.

You may be surprised to find that a shark’s ears also play a role in balance. 

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Where Are The Ears On A Shark?

Unless you are up and close and personal with a shark, chances are you won’t see their ears.

Their ‘external’ ears are small holes behind their eyes. The two small openings are barely as large as a pin.

Ears are meant for more than just hearing. Sharks use their ears to tell their general direction.

For example, the ear stone reacts to gravity, which helps sharks understand their position and general direction.

How Many Ears Do Sharks Have?

All sharks have excellent hearing and two ears, but the parts of their ears are limited. 

Sharks only have an inner ear. For the most part, a shark’s inner ear is similar in appearance and function to ours.

Are Sharks Blind Or Deaf?

Sharks are not blind or deaf. Instead, they use their senses to hunt, move, and live throughout their lives.

Some people believe that sharks are blind because they use other senses to track animals, but this is not true. Their sight is impeccable. A shark can see up to 50 feet in front of them. 

There are some limitations to their sight, though. Sharks, for example, have trouble distinguishing between colors.

This is why some sharks will attack humans or surfboards in the water, thinking they are seals or small whales. 

Australian researchers have found that juvenile sharks have low vision, especially in murky waters, leading to accidental human shark attacks.

In clear waters, sharks have the best vision, up to ten times better than human vision.

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Sharks are also not deaf and instead have two inner ears that can hear loud sounds from miles away. The average shark can hear sounds up to 800 feet away, which is helpful when hunting.

How Do Sharks Successfully Hunt Using Their Senses?

Humans have five senses, and they are not the strongest in the animal world. Sharks have us beat as they have six to seven senses, an often debated number. 

The Smithsonian only includes six senses that help sharks hunt; smell, hearing, touch, taste, sight, and electromagnetism. Sharks wait for opportunities to hunt and frequently feed alone.

Sharks use these senses to feast on smaller fish and invertebrates. Large sharks like great white sharks are more daring and will hunt for seals and small marine mammals.

1. Smell

A shark can smell blood a quarter of a mile away, but not all sharks have the same smelling abilities.

When a shark’s prey is wounded and blood pours into the water, sharks swim quickly and hunt the animal.

2. Hearing

Hearing helps a shark hunt since the sense of hearing also helps with balance and direction.

Usually, a shark will use all of its senses when hunting. 

3. Touch

Sharks, like other animals, feel pain. There are hundreds and thousands of nerve endings under their skin, including their teeth.

Touch is an important sense for sharks as they can feel temperature changes and water currents as they swim.

4. Sight

The sense of sight in a shark is strong and clear. To protect their eyes, a shark has a third eyelid that slides over the eye during feeding.

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Great White sharks roll their eyes backward to protect their eyes from the blood and bones in the water during feeding.

5. Electromagnetism

A sense that sharks have that humans do not is electromagnetism.

The sense of electromagnetism is unique as sharks can detect electrical fields on all living things. Electromagnetism does not have a long range, but there are sensors throughout a shark’s body. 

The sensors include ampoules and a long tubule with a gelatinous substance.

Most small fish and oceanic mammals have low electrical impulses, so sharks must be within tens of centimeters of their prey for the electrical sensors to work.

New evidence suggests that sharks use their electromagnetic sensors to guide them through the water as they detect the earth’s magnetic field.

In Conclusion

Sharks have two inner ears but do not have outer or middle ears. While sharks do not have outer or middle ears, the tiny hairs inside of their inner ears easily pick up quick vibrations.

Using all six senses, sharks hunt for small schools of fish and aquatic mammals daily.

Learn More About Sharks:

  1. Do Sharks Have Scales?
  2. Are Sharks Apex Predators?
  3. Do Sharks Produce Milk?
  4. Do Sharks Give Birth Or Lay Eggs?
  5. Do Great White Sharks Lay Eggs?

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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