Editors' ChoiceAnimal Migration

Guiding forces

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Science  26 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6374, pp. 408-409
DOI: 10.1126/science.359.6374.408-f

Planetary cues, such as magnetic inclination and moon phase, guide northern elephant seals and other large vertebrates over long distances and across time.

PHOTO: NNEHRING/ISTOCK.COM

Although much research has focused on understanding how animals guide their migrations across large regions of the planet, we know very little about this phenomenon, particularly for large, difficult-to-track species. Horton et al. tackled this question for some of the largest and farthest-traveling animals on Earth, a set of marine species including humpback whales, white sharks, and northern elephant seals. Using satellite tracking technologies, they found that both individual paths and general routes of travel were often consistent across years, suggesting consistent cues or memories. Further, departure time and routes of travel were correlated with physical cues such as magnetic inclination, moon phase, and gravitational signals. Although purely correlational at this stage, these results suggest that these animals use a suite of planetary indicators to guide them over extremely long distances on consistent routes and with consistent timing.

Front. Mar. Sci. 10.3389/fmars.2017.00422 (2017).

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