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The pros and cons of being a hammerhead shark

But as soon as the duiker was tilted up or down, strength quickly came into play, allowing for a quick rise or fall. This helps explain why hammerhead sharks are “much more maneuverable than a typical shark,” said Dr. Parsons, who thinks the skill could help them gather food from the sea floor.

The researchers also measured the amount of resistance produced by the mullet leaves. The winghead shark, which has the largest hammerhead, appears to be dealing with “20 to 40 times the amount of drag” of a typical fish, said Dr. Parsons.

Such a head, he added, seems “a pain in the ass,”

; although the benefits it provides must outweigh the costs.

Analyzing so many species is “a real push forward” for hammerhead hydrodynamics, said Marianne Porter, a biologist at Florida Atlantic University who was not involved in the research. “We can start studying the variation between them.”

But, he added, “there are some limitations with computational models”. In the real world, sharks swim with their whole body, through ever-changing ocean conditions. When you try to recreate these things in models and focusing on one body part at a time, “things get muddy really fast,” he said. (Indeed, in a similar study published in 2018, Dr. Porter found that the hammerhead body as a whole produces lift.)

“The hammer, at all angles of attack, produces a lot of resistance,” said Dr. Parsons in response. “But it may be possible to recover some of that lost momentum with properly placed fins and structures” elsewhere on the shark.

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

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