Sharks possess extraordinary electrical ‘sixth sense’ tuned for attack-mode

SAN FRANCISCO — We often point to a shark’s razor-sharp teeth, incomparable strength, and elite speed when it comes to their extraordinary ability to hunt, but a new study finds they use a super-sensitive electrical “sixth sense” that, no matter how faint, signals them to pinpoint and attack.

Sharks are one of the most fearsome predators on the planet. Their bodies and their senses — from smell to sight to touch — are all tuned for one thing: finding and killing prey. This latest research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, was aimed at finding the links between evolution and the senses in animals. Instead it wound up revealing how sharks possess an unparalleled sensor of sorts that allows them to pick up on the tiniest of electrical fields from living things in nearby waters.

Great white shark
A new study finds that sharks use a super-sensitive electrical “sixth sense” that, no matter how faint, signals them to pinpoint and attack prey.

“Sharks have this incredible ability to pick up nanoscopic currents while swimming through a blizzard of electric noise. Our results suggest that a shark’s electrosensing organ is tuned to react to any of these changes in a sudden, all-or-none manner, as if to say, ‘attack now,'” explains Dr. David Julius, professor and chair of physiology at the University of California, San Francisco and senior author of the study, in a release.

For the study, the authors exposed chain catsharks along with skates, a close cousin to sharks, to various levels of low voltage frequencies, and then measured their breathing rates. While skates’ breathing rates tended to vary from little reaction to significant movement, the research team found that sharks’ breathing rates increased to practically the same level every time, which supported the notion that the fish are constantly seeking out prey.

“In almost every way, the shark electrosensory system looks like the skate’s and so we expected the shark cells to respond in a graded manner,” says co-author Dr. Nicholas W. Bellono. “We were very surprised when we found that the shark system reacts completely differently to stimuli.”

The research team determined that though they both possess the same “electrosensing organ,” the two species use their abilities differently. Skates use their ectrosense organ to find mates, food, and friends while sharks, of course, use theirs to hunt. Sharks, on the other hand, simply used theirs to find prey.

These reactions from sharks are believed to be activated by genes that encode proteins, known as “ion channels,” which other animals also possess.

“Ion channels essentially make the nervous system tick. They play a major role in controlling how information flows through a nervous system,” says Dr. Nina Schor, deputy director at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “Mutations in ion channels can be devastating and have been linked to a variety of disorders, including cystic fibrosis and some forms of epilepsy, migraines, paralysis, blindness and deafness.”

Which is what makes these latest findings all the more valuable for researchers.

“Studies like this highlight the role a single ion channel can play in any nervous system, shark, skate, or human,” says Schor.

Adds Julius: “In short, it’s cool! We’re on a mission to understand how the nervous system controls pain and other sensations. Sharks and skates have a unique sensory system that detects electrical fields. Although humans do not share this experience, you can learn a lot from studying unique, or extreme, systems in nature. It’s also a captivating way to learn about how evolution shapes the senses.”

The full study was published May 30, 2018 in the journal Nature.


  1. ***
    A SCUBA diver co-worker claimed that a 9v. transistor radio battery connected to a couple of long wires would drive a shark off when it got within a few meters. He had a 12 gauge #00 Buckshot shotgun shell probe with him also. Just in case technology–or the battery–or the shark!–failed to work properly.

        1. I believe that’s what I said or Bibb said…..I never used one, I always hunted with a Spear Gun with a long shaft as an open water qualified diver since 1967, re-certified three times over the years trying to keep up with this fast evolving Sport I have never seen a Shark while Diving, mostly at Catalina and the Ana Capa Chain, but I know they are out there watching me…………

    1. A Divemaster (I am) and can tell you that absolutely would overwhelm a shark. But, in truth, most are pretty docile. You don’t need any deterrent except the ability to keep a slow heart rhythm. Once it speeds up, they know you know, you’re prey.

  2. Please give back the money you wasted on this “Study”. Shark ability to perceive even the tiniest electrical field created by a Duracell battery over a QUARTER MILE has been documented for over 50 years now.

  3. Big deal. I have a 6th sense too. In fact I have at least 8 senses:
    1. Sight
    2. Sound
    3. Taste
    4. Smell
    5. Touch
    6. Temperature
    7. Acceleration/balance (inner ear)
    8. Proprioception (example: touch fingertips together without looking)

  4. “Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies. Farewell and adieu to you ladies of Spain.”

  5. Articles like this are exactly why people to continue to fish, fin and kill sharks. It not new news that sharks go into attack mode just like any other preditory species. This article is bogus as is the “study”.

  6. “A new study finds…” Wait, a NEW study??? People have known about this for decades and it’s even been explained in television documentaries for YEARS. Look, if you want to educate people, that’s one thing, but if you want to tell people this is NEW, then you’re either not that bright, or you were click baiting the internet with your title. Hell, you’re right off of the Pacific coast. Do you have any idea how many marine biologists you could have spoken to before you wrote this “article?”

    1. Neither does ‘one plus one equals two’–by accident that is. Constant Order can not naturally occur without originating from….Character and Intelligence based in Knowledge.

      1. Guy, your mind is so limited, please stop. You have obviously not spent much time researching quantum physics, nor the insane leaps in technology made over the past 20 years. I’ll say this again, I’m no atheist, but in my opinion every “religion” makes God entirely too small. Smh. “I’ll pray for you” ha. Ugh. Disappointed I came on the internet today.

        1. There’s your bias, you are arrogant about your pretentious “intelligence,” and you have a personal preference for what God should, or must, or couldn’t, be. Something is driving your bias, something you refuse to admit. Meanwhile, God is FREE to exist in a profile you don’t approve of, in fact he may actually prefer to be so different from your preferences that you can’t accept him without totally abandoning your preferences. Nothing strange about that. The strange thing is, why would the clay ignore the potter?

          1. No I truly don’t. Furthermore, I think you SHOULD follow whatever makes you happy! I’m thrilled you have the faith you do! But, not every discussion requires accompanying scripture or acknowledgement of something which YOU can’t fathom, so, it’s God!
            That’s such a cop out of an answer; just because you can’t figure it out, doesn’t mean God can’t. Don’t put him in such a box. I am not an atheist, but I do believe in evolution for the most part. Here, paradox for you; can God create an unliftable object, one so heavy He can’t lift it? Yes? No? Oh, so both answers imply HE is not all powerful. I personally believe God IS all powerful. So I’m not going to confine him (I hope you see the absurdity in putting a pronoun on God by now) to what I simply cant’t imagine. That’s ridiculous! Be humble. All of your religions make God way too small, IN MY OPINION. So, I truly wish you the best, but people ask “why is society turning away from God?” People like you, sir. That’s why. Immediately morally superior!

          2. Evolution is a SELF-EVIDENT fantasy, it is false because it is based on irrationality, and a void of evidence.

            As for God’s size, your argument makes no sense.

            As for your accusation that I think I’m morally superior, what a joke. I challenge your illogic, and you miss the point.

          3. You literally just said EVERYTHING I said was bullshit, yet made completely no effort to rebut. My logic is just fine, as it’s is backed by easily observable facts. Are there holes in evolution? Absolutely! But you’re gonna sit there and tell me the world is 7000 years old when science has, through a multitude of mediums, proven the earth to be about 4.3 billion years old. What we’ve yet to discover is literally infinite. So, you “challenge my illogic” [sic] with what, exactly?

      1. I’ll give you ZILLIONS of years, and STILL sophisticated design does not arise by accident. It’s not about the time, it’s about the POWER.

      1. Read my post again for the “why.” Anything else is wishful fantasy. What is the personal compulsion driving your refusal to acknowledge what is self-evident? What is so important to you that you have limited yourself to an utterly absurd, impossible alternative?

  7. If this Extraordinary Electrical ‘Sixth Sense’ is true then Orcas, that can easily kill sharks, must have some kind of Extraordinary Electrical ‘Sixth Sense’ cloaking abilities.

    1. No, orcas are a dolphin, their intelligence matches humans for all we know. They specifically use echolocation the “sonar” like we were taught as children. But neither apex predator; great white or Orca wish to get into a fight with the other.

    1. No, ha that would be their SEVENTH sense. LMFAO I was REALLY REALLY disappointed to read this. For once, the comment section restored a bit of my faith in humanity.

  8. This is satire right? I can’t FATHOM this is on Drudge! Oh my, sharks, a sixth sense? No fucking way! How about a 7th too? I didn’t read this article I (as a hobby) enjoy diving and studying sharks. I was well aware of the ampullae of Lorenzini, since…geez 14? Didn’t read this so I dunno, this this EXPERT talk about the lateral line sharks have; one long nerve running the extent of their body too? That detects vibration, the prior electrical currents, and we’ve still yet to figure out how they can detect one drop of blood in over a million ppm of water, so, assume an eighth sense as well. “Study Finds”, looking for material? MAYBE hire an author whose first stop isn’t Wikipedia. (End rant)

  9. I’m starting to believe that the only “new discoveries” are gullible government officials who authorize funding for the same studies over & over again. Or maybe it’s the “new discoveries” of click bait in the media.

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