Social learning in solitary juvenile sharks

Catarina Vila Pouca, Dennis Heinrich, Charlie Huveneers, Culum Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Social learning can be a shortcut for acquiring locally adaptive information. Animals that live in social groups have better access to social information, but gregarious and nonsocial species are also frequently exposed to social cues. Thus, social learning might simply reflect an animal's general ability to learn rather than an adaptation to social living. Here, we investigated social learning and the effect of frequency of social exposure in nonsocial, juvenile Port Jackson sharks, Heterodontus portusjacksoni. We compared (1) Individual Learners, (2) Sham-Observers, paired with a naïve shark, and (3) Observers, paired with a trained demonstrator, in a novel foraging task. We found that more Observers learnt the foraging route compared to Individual Learners or Sham-Observers, and that Individual Learners took more days to learn. Training frequency did not affect learning rate, suggesting acquisition occurred mostly between training bouts. When demonstrators were absent, 30% of observers maintained their performance above the learning criterion, indicating they retained the acquired information. These results indicate that social living is not a prerequisite for social learning in elasmobranchs and suggest social learning is ubiquitous in vertebrates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-27
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • cognition
  • conformity
  • elasmobranchs
  • gregarious
  • sociality


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