Sharks Use Earth’s Magnetic Fields to Guide Them Like a Map

Written by on May 18, 2021 in Environment, Wildlife with 0 Comments
image_pdfimage_print

Bonnethead shark.
Credit: © Wrangel / 123RF.com

By Cell Press | Science Daily

Sea turtles are known for relying on magnetic signatures to find their way across thousands of miles to the very beaches where they hatched. Now, researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on May 6 have some of the first solid evidence that sharks also rely on magnetic fields for their long-distance forays across the sea.

“It had been unresolved how sharks managed to successfully navigate during migration to targeted locations,” said Save Our Seas Foundation project leader Bryan Keller, also of Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory. “This research supports the theory that they use the earth's magnetic field to help them find their way; it's nature's GPS.”

Researchers had known that some species of sharks travel over long distances to reach very specific locations year after year. They also knew that sharks are sensitive to electromagnetic fields. As a result, scientists had long speculated that sharks were using magnetic fields to navigate. But the challenge was finding a way to test this in sharks.

“To be honest, I am surprised it worked,” Keller said. “The reason this question has been withstanding for 50 years is that sharks are difficult to study.”

Keller realized the needed studies would be easier to do in smaller sharks. They also needed a species known for returning each year to specific locations. He and his colleagues settled on bonnetheads (Sphyrna tiburo).

“The bonnethead returns to the same estuaries each year,” Keller said. “This demonstrates that the sharks know where ‘home' is and can navigate back to it from a distant location.”

The question then was whether bonnetheads managed those return trips by relying on a magnetic map. To find out, the researchers used magnetic displacement experiments to test 20 juvenile, wild-caught bonnetheads. In their studies, they exposed sharks to magnetic conditions representing locations hundreds of kilometers away from where the sharks were actually caught. Such studies allow for straightforward predictions about how the sharks should subsequently orient themselves if they were indeed relying on magnetic cues.

If sharks derive positional information from the geomagnetic field, the researchers predicted northward orientation in the southern magnetic field and southward orientation in the northern magnetic field, as the sharks attempted to compensate for their perceived displacement. They predicted no orientation preference when sharks were exposed to the magnetic field that matched their capture site. And, it turned out, the sharks acted as they'd predicted when exposed to fields within their natural range.

The researchers suggest that this ability to navigate based on magnetic fields may also contribute to the population structure of sharks. The findings in bonnetheads also likely help to explain impressive feats by other shark species. For instance, one great white shark was documented to migrate between South Africa and Australia, returning to the same exact location the following year.

“How cool is it that a shark can swim 20,000 kilometers round trip in a three-dimensional ocean and get back to the same site?” Keller asked. “It really is mind-blowing. In a world where people use GPS to navigate almost everywhere, this ability is truly remarkable.”

In future studies, Keller says he'd like to explore the effects of magnetic fields from anthropogenic sources such as submarine cables on sharks. They'd also like to study whether and how sharks rely on magnetic cues not just during long-distance migration but also during their everyday behavior.

This work was supported by the Save Our Seas Foundation and the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory.


Story Source:

Materials provided by Cell Press.


Journal Reference:

  1. Bryan A. Keller, Nathan F. Putman, R. Dean Grubbs, David S. Portnoy, Timothy P. Murphy. Map-like use of Earth’s magnetic field in sharksCurrent Biology, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.03.103

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Subscribe

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on YouTube

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

FAIR USE NOTICE. Many of the articles on this site contain copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making this material available in an effort to advance the understanding of environmental issues, human rights, economic and political democracy, and issues of social justice. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright Law which contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. If you wish to use such copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use'...you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. And, if you are a copyright owner who wishes to have your content removed, let us know via the "Contact Us" link at the top of the site, and we will promptly remove it.

The information on this site is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice of any kind. Conscious Life News assumes no responsibility for the use or misuse of this material. Your use of this website indicates your agreement to these terms.

Paid advertising on Conscious Life News may not represent the views and opinions of this website and its contributors. No endorsement of products and services advertised is either expressed or implied.
Top
Send this to a friend