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


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.

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We thank Planète Sauvage and the dolphin trainers for their cooperation, as well as Martin Böye, Françoise Joubaud and Maxime Hervé for their assistance. This study was funded by A.N.R. (grant ORILANG), I.U.F, and A.N.R.T. (grant CIFRE).

Conflict of interest

The experiments described in this paper comply with the current laws of the country in which they were performed. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Alban Lemasson.

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Communicated by: Sven Thatje

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Kremers, D., López Marulanda, J., Hausberger, M. et al. Behavioural evidence of magnetoreception in dolphins: detection of experimental magnetic fields. Naturwissenschaften 101, 907–911 (2014).

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  • Sensory perception
  • Magnetic sense
  • Cetaceans