Dolphins and Magnets

Recently, there’s been an influx of attention online regarding the topic of dolphins being sensitive to magnetic stimuli. Based on what I could find, this is due to a recently published study by Kremers et al in Planete Sauvage, France. Here is a link to the first online report I found siting the publication. Springer – Dolphins are attracted to magnets Kremers and her colleagues believe that their research provides experimental behavioral proof that these marine animals (bottlenose dolphins) are magnetoreceptive.

Dolphins certainly wouldn’t be the first identified magnetoreceptive species.  Research shows that migratory birds and honeybees use the magnetic field for navigation. Wood mice are another mammal that in research appears to use the magnetic field. In the ocean, sea turtles seem to use the magnetic field for migration.

And of course, sharks and rays are magnetosensitive. They even have a sensory organ, ampullae of lorenzini, that allow them to sense the magnetic field and help them to identify prey, based on the electrical current of the heart rate in prey. When searching online for videos of responses to sharks and magnets. I found this video with Patrick Rice http://video.pbs.org/viralplayer/2365246117 I’ve also seen video of Eric Stroud at the Shark Lab in Bimini working with juvenile lemon sharks and a notable response when magnets are brought into the field versus lead. (unfortunately, I didn’t save the link and was unable to find it in full again) With sharks it seems, that we humans, have all sorts of agendas as to why this research is important. The first seems to be, using magnets to deter sharks from harming humans in the water. And the second seems to be related to reducing the number of sharks caught in fishing lines.

What piques my interest is that while often research shows that magnets repel sharks, dolphins seem to be attracted to them according to this recent study. This may indicate that dolphins may be using magnosensitivity for navigation. The migratory patterns of dolphins seem to be studied far less than that of whales with the exception being the orca (which is actually the largest cetacean in the dolphin family). SO is it possible that dolphins have another sense, magnetoreception?

I admire that in Kremers study, that the use of echolocation was seemingly not possible for distinguishing the control and the magnets, though, do we really know all there is to know about echolocation and dolphins?

The bottom line is that there is much we do not know about the creatures we live among. I have a deep appreciation for the researchers out there studying these creatures and sharing with the world their findings. Whatever the outcome of this initial research may lead to is certainly unknown, but it is also most certainly intriguing for the curious dolphin loving, science nerd inside me.

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