Comparative brain morphology of the Greenland and pacific sleeper sharks and its functional implications

Kara E. Yopak, Bailey C. McMeans, Christopher G. Mull, Kirk W. Feindel, Kit M. Kovacs, Christian Lydersen, Aaron T. Fisk, Shaun P. Collin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


In cartilaginous fishes, variability in the size of the brain and its major regions is often associated with primary habitat and/or specific behavior patterns, which may allow for predictions on the relative importance of different sensory modalities. The Greenland (Somniosus microcephalus) and Pacific sleeper (S. pacificus) sharks are the only non-lamnid shark species found in the Arctic and are among the longest living vertebrates ever described. Despite a presumed visual impairment caused by the regular presence of parasitic ocular lesions, coupled with the fact that locomotory muscle power is often depressed at cold temperatures, these sharks remain capable of capturing active prey, including pinnipeds. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), brain organization of S. microcephalus and S. pacificus was assessed in the context of up to 117 other cartilaginous fish species, using phylogenetic comparative techniques. Notably, the region of the brain responsible for motor control (cerebellum) is small and lacking foliation, a characteristic not yet described for any other large-bodied (>3 m) shark. Further, the development of the optic tectum is relatively reduced, while olfactory brain regions are among the largest of any shark species described to date, suggestive of an olfactory-mediated rather than a visually-mediated lifestyle.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10022
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2019


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