Why Sharks Dont Have Nostrils?

When you think about sharks, you probably envision their large mouths filled with numerous sharp teeth! You might also picture their dorsal fin sticking out of the water as they swim. However, have you ever wondered about other parts of their bodies? We know they have mouths, teeth, fins… what about noses? Do sharks possess nostrils—and if they do, why?

Shark noses don’t resemble human noses, that’s for sure! Nevertheless, they do have noses, and their noses have openings just like ours. Instead of nostrils, their nose openings are called nares. And, of course, their noses function a bit differently than ours do. Our noses are used for breathing air and smelling. When we inhale, tiny particles of whatever we are smelling enter our nostrils. Once a smell enters our nostrils, receptors in our noses send signals to our brains. Then, our brain interprets those signals.

However, sharks don’t breathe air like we do. Instead, they extract oxygen from the water using their gills. Their nostrils are not connected to their gills—or even to their mouths! So, how do they smell? First, water enters one of their nares. It then passes through a nasal sac or passage and exits through the other nostril. As the water flows through the nasal sac, the shark’s receptors pick up odors. Similar to our brain, the receptors then send signals to the shark’s brain.

The part of a shark’s brain that processes smell messages is much larger than the corresponding part in a human brain. This is logical since smells are crucial to a shark. In fact, smells help sharks locate the food they need to survive! Scientists used to believe that sharks had a better sense of smell compared to many other fish. This was partially because their nasal sac has a much larger surface area. They theorized that this additional area with smell receptors would give sharks a significantly better sense of smell. Although sharks do have a keen sense of smell, it turns out to be similar to that of most other fish.

However, sharks excel not only in smelling but also in other senses just like us—taste, sight, touch, and hearing—plus some additional senses that we lack! Their sense of hearing is even more acute than their sense of smell. Since sound waves travel faster and farther through water than through air, sharks can hear sounds over long distances. Sharks also possess a system called the lateral line, which consists of fluid-filled sacs just below their skin. This system helps sharks detect the flow of water around them and detect slight changes in pressure, such as when a fish is moving nearby.

Another sense that sharks possess is their “electric” sense. They can detect electromagnetic fields, which aids them in navigating the oceans due to the presence of electromagnetic fields around the Earth. It can even assist them in finding prey since all living organisms emit weak electrical signals.

From smelling to hearing to their electric sense, shark senses have fascinating differences compared to ours! Which shark sense would YOU like to have?

Give It a Try

Looking for more fun facts? Give one of these ideas a try!

Discover the Power of Shark Senses!

  • Do you have a sense of smell as sharp as a shark’s? Test it out with this fun experiment! Get an adult’s assistance and share your findings with a friend or family member. Who among you has the most impressive sense of smell?
  • Curious about how your sense of smell impacts your sense of taste? Conduct this experiment to find out! Afterward, challenge your friends or family members to try it too. Use any materials you have to create a poster explaining the results of your experiment. Share your creation with your loved ones!
  • If you could possess any shark sense, which one would you choose? Write a short story envisioning what would happen if you woke up tomorrow with a shark’s sense, or try writing from the perspective of a shark. How do your senses guide you in navigating your surroundings or finding your next meal? Share your story with a friend or family member!

Wonder Sources

  • https://www.britannica.com/dictionary (accessed on June 26, 2023)
  • https://dlnr.hawaii.gov/sharks/about-sharks/senses/ (accessed on June 7, 2023)
  • https://www.insidescience.org/news/shark-smell-myth-found-fishy (accessed on June 7, 2023)
  • https://www.oceanfirstinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Can-Sharks-Really-Smell-a-Drop-of-Blood-a-Mile-Away-Resources.docx.pdf (accessed on June 7, 2023)
  • https://www.sciencefriday.com/articles/shark-seven-senses/ (accessed on June 7, 2023)


1. Why do sharks have nostrils?

Sharks have nostrils known as nares, which are located on the underside of their snouts. These nostrils serve an important purpose for the sharks – they help them detect smells in the water. By using their nostrils, sharks can pick up on the scent of potential prey or other interesting objects in their environment.

2. How do sharks use their nostrils?

Sharks use their nostrils to sense chemicals in the water, which allows them to locate food sources, mates, and even detect danger. The nostrils are connected to the shark’s olfactory organs, where the scent molecules are detected. This remarkable sense of smell enables sharks to navigate and survive in their marine habitats.

3. Can sharks breathe through their nostrils?

No, sharks do not use their nostrils for breathing. Sharks have separate openings called gill slits located on the sides of their bodies, which are used for extracting oxygen from the water. The nostrils are solely dedicated to the sense of smell, while respiration occurs through the gills.

4. Are shark nostrils similar to human nostrils?

No, shark nostrils are quite different from human nostrils. While human nostrils are primarily used for breathing and detecting smells, shark nostrils are specifically designed for detecting scents in the water. Unlike humans, sharks do not inhale air through their nostrils but rather rely on their gills for respiration.

5. How sensitive are shark nostrils?

Shark nostrils are incredibly sensitive. They can detect even the smallest traces of chemicals in the water, allowing sharks to locate prey from a considerable distance. Research has shown that sharks can detect a drop of blood in a swimming pool-sized body of water. This heightened sense of smell is crucial for their survival as efficient predators in the ocean.

6. Are all shark species’ nostrils the same?

No, not all shark species have the same type of nostrils. Some sharks, such as the great white shark, have larger nostrils with flaps that can close when needed, helping to prevent water from entering the olfactory organs. Other species, like the hammerhead shark, have uniquely shaped nostrils that are positioned on the sides of their distinctive head shape. These variations in nostril design are adaptations that suit each species’ specific needs and habitats.

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