Lewis C. Naisbett-Jones, Nathan F. Putman, Michelle M. Scanlan, David L. G. Noakes, and Kenneth J. Lohmann
A variety of animals sense Earth’s magnetic field and use it to guide movements over a wide range of spatial scales. Little is known, however, about the mechanisms that underlie magnetic field detection. Among teleost fish, growing evidence suggests that crystals of the mineral magnetite provide the physical basis of the magnetic sense. In this study, juvenile Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) were exposed to a brief but strong magnetic pulse capable of altering the magnetic dipole moment of biogenic magnetite. Orientation behaviour of pulsed fish and untreated control fish was then compared in a magnetic coil system under two conditions: (1) the local magnetic field and (2) a magnetic field that exists near the southern boundary of the natural oceanic range of Chinook salmon. In the local field, no significant difference existed between the orientation of the control and pulsed groups. By contrast, orientation of the two groups was significantly different in the magnetic field from the distant site. These results demonstrate that a magnetic pulse can alter the magnetic orientation behaviour of a fish and are consistent with the hypothesis that salmon have magnetite-based magnetoreception.