Do you sometimes wonder how sharks feel when they get hurt? Do they feel pain like we do? Those times sharks are being finned or cut open for tagging, do they experience pain. If they do, how do they express it? These are questions that scientists already provided answers to.
So, Do Sharks Feel Pain? The truth is that several observed and scientific evidence shows that sharks do NOT feel pain. This may come as a surprise. However, when sharks that have been disemboweled during feeding frenzy by other sharks continue to feed, what do you say? This is especially when they show no signs of physical injuries.
We know bony fish do feel pains, but sharks aren’t like these fish. Sharks are cartilaginous fish and they show no signs of pains
We’ll find out why sharks do not feel pains like most other animals. At first, let’s understand how pains come by.
How Do We Feel Pains?
We feel pains due to the receptors in our skin that responds to stimuli causing physical damage. These receptors are the nociceptors. When you get a cut on the skin, the nociceptors will receive the stimuli and then send it to the brain through the nerve fibers. The brain then interprets this message, thus giving the feeling of pain.
This happens also when you feel pressure or heat on the body. The nociceptors start the journey to the feeling of pain which the brain finally gives off.
If this is how we feel pain, what then is different from sharks that they don’t feel pain?
Why Do Sharks Not Feel Pain?
Sharks do not have nociceptors which receive noxious stimuli. With this, one reason a shark should feel pain is removed from the equation.
Again, sharks do not respond to stimuli causing physical damages the way we and other animals would. For example, teleost fish such as trout would respond to noxious stimuli the way we do. This is because this fish has nociceptors similar to ours.
A study of the trout shows that when injected with venom from bees in their lips and anesthetized, they start showing signs of pains when the anesthesia wears off. This can be seen with these fish rubbing their lips against the aquarium wall or on the gravel used at the bottom of the tank.
Sometimes, these fish will tend to rock their body from side to side. This represents a feeling of extreme discomfort and pain.
These reactions of the teleost fish with bee venom is also observed when injected with acetic acid. Talk about acetic acid, talk about vinegar as it is the primary ingredient in vinegar.
In all, fish such as teleost fish e.g. trout feel pain as they have nociceptors. However, sharks lack this receptor, therefore, they do not feel pain.
How Do We Know that Sharks Do Not Feel Pain?
We can confirm that sharks do not feel pain from a series of observed events. For example, sharks that prey on stingrays often have several barbs sticking up their mouths. Researchers found a hammerhead shark with up to 96 barbs from stingrays.
Now, think of it, if these sharks feel pain, they should be more careful with stingrays. Or at least, find ways of removing the barbs sticking in their mouth. Seemingly, they don’t feel the pain, hence, they just ignore the barbs.
On another note, there are reports of sharks continuing to feed even while cut in half. This is also the case with sharks disemboweled after being attacked by other sharks. They do not show any signs of physical injury no matter how fatal. Instead, they just continue with their normal activities such as feeding until they can’t anymore.
If you at this point liken sharks to insects, you may not be wrong. Let’s see it this way, insects won’t even try to protect parts of their body with injuries. Thus, even with a broken leg, an insect wouldn’t limp. Also, even if their body sustains severe injuries, it doesn’t stop them from feeding or engaging in other activities. They tend to continue with their normal activities and even mate.
A locust for instance has been observed to continue feeding even while a mantis is eating it up. Of course, they don’t feel the pain.
Most insects would feed, mate, and engage in other activities even with severe injuries. This is likely the same for sharks.
So, you can say that sharks are not like most mammals or some fish species that feel pains.
If Sharks Do Not Feel Pain, Why Do They Struggle When Caught on Fishing Lines?
Sharks would struggle to free themselves from fishing lines and nets. We can say that this is just a normal reflex. Of course, the fishing net tends to deprive them of their freedom to move about. So, they would only naturally react by struggling to free themselves.
Nobody certainly likes their freedom hindered. Therefore, struggling to be free from fishing lines and nets has nothing to do with sharks’ feeling pain. Instead, it more of a reflex to be free. All other fish species would do the same when entangled in fishing nets.
Even terrestrial animals that mistakenly got their legs restricted from moving would struggle to be free. You can now see that reacting from pain and trying to be free from movement restrictions is quite different. The latter comes as a natural instinct.
What Similarities Do Teleost Fish Have with Mammals that They Feel Pain?
Teleost fish are bony fish with trout as a primary example. The main similarity is the presence of nociceptors in both teleost and mammals that feel pains. Of course, this does not provide evidence that these fish feel pain. But, for the fact that they respond to noxious stimuli as mammals as we do, you can’t agree more.
Researchers have confirmed this behavioral similarity when responding to noxious stimuli. Hence, they can confidently say that these fish feel pain.
There have been arguments that lack of activity in the neocortex – the external part of the brain with many folds – that humans wouldn’t feel conscious nor feel pain. This led many to think that fish don’t feel pain or any other thing since they don’t have the neocortex. Of course, not putting the nociceptors and behavioral response into consideration.
However, this may not be true on its own. Let’s see for example children born without neocortex. When they survive, they exhibit several behaviors that show that they have common bodily and emotional feelings (Merker 2007).
Some of these behaviors include these children laughing or fussing about things they dislike. To a greater extent, they feel excited and can play along with adults they know. They would smile, giggle, and laugh to show excitement.
Take this to birds that also lack a neocortex. Just so you know, it will sound odd saying that they don’t feel pain or don’t have a conscious state. Birds as we know respond to painkillers as much as we do. More so, they show care for parts of their body that are damaged. Hence, they’ll limp if they have a fracture on their legs.
You see, it isn’t about the neocortex. Thus, you can confidently agree that fish do feel pain even without neocortex.
Do Sharks Feel Pain When Being Finned or Cut Open for Tagging?
The general fact is that there is more evidence that sharks do not feel pain at all. As a result, it doesn’t matter what causes the injury, they just don’t feel pain.
So, when finning sharks or cutting them open for tagging, sharks wouldn’t feel the pain. This is just as when they disembowel each other to continue feeding without regard to the mortal injury.
You may think, sharks are fish and some fish tend to feel pain, why not sharks? The truth is that it is not yet very clear to researchers how sharks respond to pain. However, for now, more of the evidence shows that these creatures don’t feel pain. (Source]).
How Do Sharks go about Their Survival Since They Don’t Feel Pain?
It is obvious that humans and other animals that feel pain rely on their sensation of pain to survive. Of course, when we feel pain, we know something is wrong and thus act immediately to correct the situation. By so doing, we eventually lessen the extent of the damage.
Now, imagine sharks that do not feel pain.
Well, researchers are speculating that the feeling of pain has little or nothing to do with sharks’ survival. Imagining this could be quite a difficult task. Of course, it is strange to think that sharks can’t respond to pain which could send a message of harm. Especially, when you consider that these creatures are very sensitive to several other stimuli.
The truth is that it is not about what we think, it is just more about the evidence from researches. Thus, the evidence shows that sharks don’t feel pain.
If sharks do feel pain in any way, then maybe the mechanism surrounding their feeling of noxious pain is entirely different from ours.
If you ask whether sharks feel pain, the answer would be NO. This is because more evidence from neurophysiological and behavioral research proves that these creatures do not feel pain.
Sharks do not feel pain to the extent that physical injuries do not prevent them from hunting. Hence, even with severe bodily injury, sharks would still attack their prey without minding.