Every monster, real or imaginary, is expected to make some sound.
Whether it’s a roar or a blood-curdling howl, the sound made by a dangerous creature is part of what makes it so scary.
The shark is one of the ocean’s most fascinating creatures and an apex predator of almost all marine ecosystems.
Naturally, one would expect such a monstrous animal to make some sort of sound.
However, sharks are almost always portrayed as silent hunters, so much so that most people simply assume they don’t make any noise at all.
While underwater communication can be a little daunting to understand, scientists have been able to study various marine animals, and we can tell how they communicate with some degree of certainty.
This is true for sharks as well.
In this article, we’ll answer the enigmatic question of how sharks communicate and determine if they indeed make noises or if they’re the silent monsters everyone thinks they are.
Can Sharks Make Noises?
Contrary to popular belief, sharks are not completely silent creatures.
However, they do lack the typical vocal cords found in other terrestrial and even a few marine animals.
This makes it impossible for them to make noises that can be heard by humans.
But while they don’t make vocal sounds, some sharks have been known to produce noises using other parts of their body.
For instance, some sharks have been known to make drumming noises when they grind their teeth or produce growl-like sounds using their swim bladders.
The truth is that the acoustic abilities of sharks isn’t a well-studied field at the moment.
However, researchers have learned a lot about them in recent years using various techniques, such as setting up underwater microphones (hydrophones) to record sounds in the ocean).
Experts also set up baited underwater cameras, which allow them to observe shark behavior while feeding, mating, or interacting with other sharks.
These cameras also allow them to observe how sharks respond to different sounds.
For all the 400 to 500 species of sharks found so far, scientists have not been able to identify any with vocal cords or any other similar sound-producing organ.
One of the few shark species with an internal sound-producing mechanism is the New Zealand shark.
This shark can inflate its body to produce a bark-like sound when it expels water.
Despite the lack of sound-producing organs, scientists have discovered that sharks may produce noises in other ways.
Studies also show that sharks can detect and respond to sounds in their environment, which can be useful for detecting prey.
It’s also likely that sharks (like many other non-vocal animals) produce low-frequency sounds that can be detected by other shark species but are inaudible to human ears and undetectable by conventional sound-measuring devices.
Do Sharks Make Noise When They Attack?
The idea that sharks make a distinct, dramatic noise when attacking their prey has long been perpetuated by popular media.
Hollywood has played a significant role in crafting this image, with movies often featuring ominous, toothy creatures accompanied by spine-tingling soundtracks.
Gory scenes of sharks mauling prey in famous movies like Jaws are often accompanied by subtle roar sounds that depict the shark’s savage feeding habit.
The truth about shark sounds is far less sensational.
They’re really not the roaring, ferocious predators depicted in films.
In fact, it makes more sense to depict sharks as silent killers since they typically hunt prey by ambush and stealth, which requires staying as quiet as possible.
The initial strike is quick and precise, often resulting in minimal noise (if any at all).
Once the prey is captured in its jaws, a short struggle may ensue as the shark tries to subdue and take a bite out of its prey.
This can create disturbance and noise in the water.
The splashing, thrashing, and commotion in the water during such encounters between sharks and prey can be pretty chaotic and audible.
However, these feeding sounds are not exclusive to sharks and are more a result of the intense struggle between predator and prey rather than a deliberate noise produced by the shark itself.
Do Sharks Make Noise Underwater?
The deep ocean is not entirely still and silent as many people imagine.
While many scuba divers agree that being underwater can be quite tranquil, there’s still a wide range of sounds in the underwater world produced by different types of animals.
The concept of the “Ocean Symphony: Ambient Music Inspired by the Sounds of the Sea” is good evidence for the acoustic interactions going on in the deep sea.
From the soulful songs of humpback whales to the clicks of dolphins and the snaps of snapping shrimps, every sound in the ocean contributes to an intricate symphony that can be audible to human ears in and outside the water.
Sound travels up to five times faster in the ocean, which can further exaggerate how underwater noise from different animals is perceived.
Sharks may also contribute to the range of sounds in the vast underwater world despite the apparent lack of sound-producing organs.
For example, the low-frequency “thumps” and “drumming sounds” produced by some shark species can be heard over a considerable distance, contributing to the ocean’s symphony in their own little way.
Do Sharks Make Noise Out of Water?
Sharks are proper aquatic animals, fully adapted to life under the water.
Their unique biology means they’re completely tuned to the underwater home.
When a shark is removed from the water through fishing activities or finds itself stranded on a beach, it faces extreme challenges due to the unfamiliar environment and lack of support or buoyancy.
Sharks do not have the means to extract oxygen from the air, unlike some aquatic animals, like whales and dolphins.
When a shark is removed from the water, it begins to experience extreme stress.
Its inability to breathe properly, combined with the pressure of its body weight, can lead to distress characterized by thrashing or flopping movements.
While this produces significant noise in some cases, it does not indicate vocalization in the real sense.
Instead, it represents the shark’s struggle to survive and return to its natural aquatic habitat.
A few shark species, like the great white and black tip reef sharks, have been known to lift their head above the water surface to gaze at objects such as prey.
This habit, known as spy-hopping, is quite common in whales but very rare in sharks.
The behavior is also completely noiseless, and the only sound you’ll probably hear is the splashing of the water as the shark’s body hits the water again.
Do Sharks Make Growling Noises?
The idea that sharks can emit growling sounds (especially when attacking prey) is a myth that has persisted for years.
While these apex predators have a menacing appearance, they are silent and stealthy hunters.
This makes the concept of a shark growl quite unlikely.
In movies and documentaries, the menacing image of a shark is sometimes accompanied by ominous growls and roars, meant to create a sense of tension and fear.
In reality, sharks do not produce such growling noises when hunting as part of their natural behavior.
Even their smooth, streamlined body is an adaptation designed to allow them to slip through the water with a ghost-like silence that does not alarm prey of their presence until it’s too late.
As mentioned earlier, sharks do not have vocal cords, a critical anatomical structure for any animal that can growl.
This means any sounds associated with sharks primarily result from their movements, interactions with prey, or the hydrodynamics of their environment.
So, while sharks cannot growl, they do exhibit other audible behaviors based on their interactions with their environment. Some notable examples of these include:
Clicks and Pops
Many shark species produce sounds similar to clicks and pops observed in many other underwater species.
Such sounds are typically produced by the movement of their jaws or other body parts and not from any internal organs.
Splashing and Thrashing
The most audible activity of sharks you’ll probably ever notice is when they’re trying to hunt or capture prey.
The struggle and commotion in the water can create significant splashing and thrashing sounds.
These sounds often depend on the shark’s size, the type of prey, and the intensity of the hunt.
During mating and courtship rituals, some shark species engage in specific behaviors that may generate sounds.
Some shark species may expel air bubbles from their gills, creating a bubbling noise.
This behavior serves various functions, including flushing out prey from hiding spots and cleaning their lungs.
Can Sharks Make Sounds?
The answer to the question of shark vocalization isn’t entirely straightforward.
While sharks cannot produce sound in the traditional sense (due to a lack of vocal cords), there’s clear evidence to suggest that they make sounds in some ways.
These sounds may also vary from one species to another, including drumming, barks, clicks, and pops.
Some species, such as the great white shark, are known for their deep, growl-like sounds, which are produced by the grinding action of their teeth.
Other sharks use their fins to create sounds when they rub them together.
A few shark species produce more complex sounds using their swim bladder.
Draughtsboard sharks, for example, can suck air or water into their stomach to inflate them and expel these compressed fluids to produce a bark-like sound.
This is one of the few instances of complex and deliberate sound production in sharks.
While the other sounds mentioned so far are often a result of other activities such as feeding, Draughtsboard sharks produce barking sounds to scare off predators.
The truth is that many aspects of shark vocalizations still remain a mystery.
Scientists believe that sharks may be capable of producing low-frequency noises for communication, navigation, and locating prey.
Some species may also use this sound during courtship rituals to attract mates.
This is because sharks can detect sounds below the range of human hearing.
Studies suggest that they can hear sounds as low as 10 Hz.
If this is true, then it is very likely that sharks communicate this way among themselves.
Despite their excellent hearing, the lack of apparent sound-producing organs leaves us with some mystery regarding shark communication.
Sharks do not produce loud or distinctive sounds despite their menacing appearance and fearsome reputation.
Since they hunt prey through stealth and ambush, making loud, growling noises is simply not good for them.
However, this does not mean they’ve evolved to be completely silent.
Scientists have discovered that different shark species can produce various sounds, which contribute in some way to the impressive ocean symphony.
Shark sounds may also help with communication, attracting mates, or simply a by-product of their feeding activities.
Some sharks produce sounds by grinding their teeth, while others can actively inflate their body and expel air and water to scare predators away.
Sharks can also detect and respond to sounds in their environment.
All of these attributes contribute to their ability as one of the ocean’s most adaptable and efficient hunters.