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Study finds that dolphins may be able to detect magnetic fields

A new study suggests that dolphins are attracted to magnets and can detect magnetic fields in objects.

Researchers at the University of Rennes 1 and the University Institute of France observed how six bottleneck dolphins responded to both magnetized and demagnetized barrels. The study, published in The Science of Nature, found that dolphins may be magnetosensitive — a.k.a., they can sense Earth's magnetic field.

Dolphins approached the device with shorter latency when it contained a strongly magnetized neodymium block compared to a control demagnetized block that was identical in form and density and therefore undistinguishable with echolocation. We conclude that dolphins are able to discriminate the two stimuli on the basis of their magnetic properties, a prerequisite for magnetoreception-based navigation. [The Science of Nature]

The researchers noted in the study that more research is needed to determine "a more precise and conclusive result" about the study's implications. Dolphins wouldn't be the first animals to align themselves with Earth's magnetic pull, though — previous studies have suggested that dogs align themselves with Earth's magnetic field to poop.

"Dolphins are able to discriminate between objects based on their magnetic properties, which is a prerequisite for magnetoreception-based navigation," Dorothee Kremers, lead author of the study, said in a statement. "Our results provide new, experimentally obtained evidence that cetaceans have a magnetic sense, and should therefore be added to the list of magnetosensitive species."