Visual optics and ecomorphology of the growing shark eye: a comparison between deep and shallow water species Academic Article uri icon


  • Elasmobranch fishes utilise their vision as an important source of sensory information, and a range of visual adaptations have been shown to reflect the ecological diversity of this vertebrate group. This study investigates the hypotheses that visual optics can predict differences in habitat and behaviour and that visual optics change with ontogenetic growth of the eye to maintain optical performance. The study examines eye structure, pupillary movement, transmission properties of the ocular media, focal properties of the lens, tapetum structure and variations in optical performance with ontogenetic growth in two elasmobranch species: the carcharhinid sandbar shark, Carcharhinus plumbeus, inhabiting nearshore coastal waters, and the squalid shortspine spurdog, Squalus mitsukurii, inhabiting deeper waters of the continental shelf and slope. The optical properties appear to be well tuned for the visual needs of each species. Eyes continue to grow throughout life, resulting in an ontogenetic shift in the focal ratio of the eye. The eyes of C. plumbeus are optimised for vision under variable light conditions, which change during development as the animal probes new light environments in its search for food and mates. By contrast, the eyes of S. mitsukurii are specifically adapted to enhance retinal illumination within a dim light environment, and the detection of bioluminescent prey may be optimised with the use of lenticular short-wavelength-absorbing filters. Our findings suggest that the light environment strongly influences optical features in this class of vertebrates and that optical properties of the eye may be useful predictors of habitat and behaviour for lesser-known species of this vertebrate group.

publication date

  • November 1, 2009