Whales' Amazing Navigation Skills Puzzle Scientists

Photo: flickkerphotos / cc

Without the aid of maps, roadsigns, and GPS equipment, many human travelers would have a hard time reaching their destinations, but such unassisted journeys are no problem at all for humpback whales. Researchers studying whale migration found that humpbacks are amazingly accurate navigators -- able to travel across hundreds of miles of vast ocean without deviating more than a single degree (or stopping to ask for directions) -- and no one is entirely sure how they do it.Researchers from the University of Canterbury tagged 16 humpback whale in the South Atlantic and South Pacific and tracked them via satellite as they migrated north across hundreds of miles of ocean. Despite occasionally adverse weather conditions and the pull of ocean currents, most of the whales still managed to travel in a straight line to their destinations.

But the secret to the humpback whale's navigating prowess is shrouded in mystery -- this according to a report published in the journal Biology Letters.

"Such remarkable directional precision is difficult to explain by established models of directional orientation," says the study's lead researcher, Dr Travis Horton of the University of Canterbury.
"It seems unlikely that individual magnetic and solar orientation cues can, in isolation, explain the extreme navigational precision achieved by humpback whales."

Just as whales' ability to travel so accurately over long-distances is unknown to science, so too is the effect human activities or geological events may have on this phenomena. Some have theorized that navigational errors could be caused by subtle precursors to earthquakes, not yet fully understood. Evidence also exists that marine SONAR systems, like the ones used by U.S. Navy, cause injuries to whales and may lead to the animals becoming stranded.

Via The Sydney Morning Herald
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Tags: Oceans | Whales

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