We challenge the hypothesis that fin whales use a magnetic sense to guide migration by testing for associations between geophysical parameters and the positions where fin whales were observed over the continental shelf off the northeastern United States. Monte Carlo simulations estimated the probability that the distribution of fin whale sighting was random with respect to bottom depth, bottom slope and the intensity and gradient of the geomagnetic field. The simulations demonstrated no overall association of sighting positions with any of these four geophysical parameters. Analysis of the data by season, however, demonstrated statistically reliable associations of sighting positions with areas of low geomagnetic intensity and gradient in winter and fall, respectively, but no association of sighting positions with bathymetric parameters in any season. An attempt to focus on migrating animals by excluding those observed feeding confirmed the associations of sighting positions with low geomagnetic intensity and gradient in winter and fall, respectively, and revealed additional associations with low geomagnetic gradients in winter and spring. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that fin whales, and perhaps other mysticete species, possess a magnetic sense that they use to guide migration.
Evidence that fin whales respond to the geomagnetic field during migration
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M. M. Walker, J. L. Kirschvink, G. Ahmed, A. E. Dizon; Evidence that fin whales respond to the geomagnetic field during migration. J Exp Biol 1 October 1992; 171 (1): 67–78. doi: https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.171.1.67
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