Original Paper

Naturwissenschaften

, Volume 101, Issue 11, pp 907-911

First online:

Behavioural evidence of magnetoreception in dolphins: detection of experimental magnetic fields

  • Dorothee KremersAffiliated withLaboratoire d’Éthologie Animale et Humaine - EthoS UMR CNRS 6552, Université de Rennes 1
  • , Juliana López MarulandaAffiliated withLaboratoire d’Éthologie Animale et Humaine - EthoS UMR CNRS 6552, Université de Rennes 1
  • , Martine HausbergerAffiliated withLaboratoire d’Éthologie Animale et Humaine - EthoS UMR CNRS 6552, Université de Rennes 1
  • , Alban LemassonAffiliated withLaboratoire d’Éthologie Animale et Humaine - EthoS UMR CNRS 6552, Université de Rennes 1Institut Universitaire de France Email author 

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Abstract

Magnetoreception, meaning the perception of magnetic fields, is supposed to play an important role for orientation/navigation in some terrestrial and aquatic species. Although some spatial observations of free-ranging cetaceans’ migration routes and stranding sites led to the assumption that cetaceans may be sensitive to the geomagnetic field, experimental evidence is lacking. Here, we tested the spontaneous response of six captive bottlenose dolphins to the presentation of two magnetized and demagnetized controlled devices while they were swimming freely. Dolphins approached the device with shorter latency when it contained a strongly magnetized neodymium block compared to a control demagnetized block that was identical in form and density and therefore undistinguishable with echolocation. We conclude that dolphins are able to discriminate the two stimuli on the basis of their magnetic properties, a prerequisite for magnetoreception-based navigation.

Keywords

Sensory perception Magnetic sense Cetaceans