A Potential Neural Substrate for Geomagnetic Sensibility in Cetaceans

  • Nicolaas M. Gerrits
  • Ronald A. Kastelein
Part of the NATO ASI Series book series (NSSA, volume 196)


Recently, data have been presented which might demonstrate a behavioral response of cetaceans towards the earth’s magnetic field. Different researchers have noted a correlation between live strandings of dolphins and characteristics of the magnetic field, e.g. direction of the field lines and the fieldstrength (Kirschvink et al., 1986; Klinowska, 1988). In the search for a magneto-sensitive organ, considerable effort has been directed towards the distribution of biogenic magnetite particles (Kirschvink et al., 1985). Magnetite particles have been discovered in many taxa including birds and mammals. Relatively high levels of magnetic material have been found in some parts of the brain (cerebellum, midbrain, corpus callosum) and the dura mater of cetaceans and the rhesus monkey (Bauer et al., 1985; Kirschvink, 1981). However, a sensory organ in which such crystals might be expected in a concentrated form has not been demonstrated anatomically. Kirschvink and Gould (1981) proposed a theoretical model in which the rotation of magnetite crystals changes the membrane resistance of a receptor cell to modulate the neuronal discharge frequency, but such a mechanism has not been demonstrated experimentally yet.


Hippocampal Formation Mossy Fiber Primary Receptor Mammillary Body Inferior Olivary Nucleus 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicolaas M. Gerrits
    • 1
  • Ronald A. Kastelein
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of AnatomyErasmus UniversityRotterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Harderwijk Marine Mammal ParkHarderwijkThe Netherlands

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