Spike dives of juvenile southern bluefin tuna (Thunnus maccoyii): a navigational role?

Abstract

Tunas make sharp descents and ascents around dawn and dusk called spike dives. We examine spike dives of 21 southern bluefin tuna (Thunnus maccoyii) implanted with archival tags in the Great Australian Bight. Using a new way to categorize this behavior, we show that spike dives are similar among all the fish in the study. The dive profiles are mirror images at dawn and dusk and are precisely timed with respect to sunrise and sunset. We analyze the possible reasons for spike dives, considering the timing of spike dives, the characteristic dive profile, and the tuna's magnetic habitat. In addition, we present anatomical evidence for elaboration of the pineal organ, which is light mediated and has been implicated in navigation in other vertebrates. The new evidence presented here leads us to suspect that spike dives represent a survey related to navigation.

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Acknowledgments

Thanks to Tom Polacheck, John Gunn, Naomi Clear, Thor Carter, Clive Stanley and other scientists who undertook the tagging program as part of the SBT juvenile recruitment monitoring program, funded in part by the Australian Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. Review by Stephen Roberts, Paige Eveson, Talbot Waterman, Michael Winklhofer, and Geoff Arnold improved the manuscript. Thanks to Scott Cooper and Jason Hartog at CSIRO CMAR Pelagic Fisheries who administered the tag database, Gerald McInerney and the staff at the Royal Hobart Hospital who were most generous in providing the MRI scan, and Karen Evans and Jessica Farley for use of the tuna head. We used data collected at Ebro and Gnangara observatories. We thank Universitat Ramon Llull, CSIC and Geoscience Australia for supporting its operation and Intermagnet for promoting high standards of magnetic observatory practice (http://www.intermagnet.org). JBP was supported by NSF IOB06-47188. No tuna were killed or harmed specifically for this study. All tagging or other sampling programs from which samples or data were used complied with the current laws of the country in which the experiments were performed and under ethics permits stated in the relevant references. This manuscript was improved after submission by the comments of several anonymous reviewers and the editor.

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Correspondence to Jay Willis.

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Communicated by W. Wiltschko

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Willis, J., Phillips, J., Muheim, R. et al. Spike dives of juvenile southern bluefin tuna (Thunnus maccoyii): a navigational role?. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 64, 57 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-009-0818-2

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Keywords

  • Migration
  • Pineal gland
  • Compass
  • Magnetic navigation
  • Polarized light
  • Archival tags