Sharks & Magnetic Fields
ABOUT OUR SHARKS & MAGNETIC FIELDS RESEARCH
It is hypothesized that sharks use the earth's magnetic field to navigate coastal waters and across ocean basins. Many species appear to orient to underwater oceanic features such as seamounts; however alternate theories regarding the mechanisms of shark navigation exist. Little in the way of experimental research - focused across a suite of species occupying different habitats - has been conducted to date. Hermanus is a unique area to conduct magnetic research as the specific geology (and lack of railway lines) means there is no interference with magnetic North and the earth's natural magnetic field. This makes alterations to the amplitude and direction of our magnetic field relatively straightforward (given we have a team of physicists to provide advice in this regard!).
Our Sharks & Magnetic Fields research has focused on understanding how catsharks respond to changes in the earth's magnetic fields. We have been working with the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) to:
- determine if catsharks can detect magnetic fields;
- determine if catsharks can detect changes in the amplification and direction of magnetic fields;
- quantify the behaviour of catsharks to changes in the earth's magnetic fields;
- further understand the physiological mechanisms of shark navigation abilities.
Research is conducted in the Shark Lab experimental tanks. A large electromagnet, comprised of tightly coiled copper wire, and a voltage meter enable us to create a magnetic field while altering the intensity and direction of Magnetic North.