The pros and cons of being a hammerhead shark

But once the cephalophyll was tilted up or down, the force quickly came into effect, allowing for rapid ascent or descent. This helps explain why “hammerheads are far more maneuverable than a typical shark,” said Dr. Parsons, who believes the skill may help them pick up food from the sea floor.

The researchers also measured the amount of withdrawal produced by the cephalophyll. Dr. Parsons said the winged shark, which has the largest hammer, appears to handle “20 to 40 times the amount of drag” as a typical fish.

He added that such a head feels like a “pain in the butt,” although the benefits it provides should outweigh the costs.

Marian Porter, a biologist at Florida Atlantic University who was not involved in the research, said analyzing several species is a “real push forward” of the water hammerhead dynamics. “We can begin to study the difference between them.”

But, she added, “there are some limitations in the mathematical models.” In the real world, sharks swim in their entirety, through ever-changing ocean conditions. When you try to recreate things like this in models, focusing on one part of the body at a time, “things get muddy very quickly,” she said. (In fact, in a similar study published in 2018, Dr. Porter found that the hammer head body generally produces leverage.)

“The hammer, at all angles of attack, produces a great deal of drag,” said Dr. Parsons in response. “But it may be possible to regain some of this lost momentum by placing the fins and appropriate fittings” elsewhere on the shark.

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He said he hoped other researchers would continue to investigate the issue: “The best research questions are those that generate 10 more questions.”

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