Chinook Salmon Inherit an 'Internal GPS' That Guides Migration: Study

By Moore, Dene | The Canadian Press, February 6, 2014 | Go to article overview

Chinook Salmon Inherit an 'Internal GPS' That Guides Migration: Study


Moore, Dene, The Canadian Press


Salmon hatch with inner GPS, says new study

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VANCOUVER - Every year, millions of chinook salmon clog the rivers and creeks of British Columbia in an epic migration that has puzzled scientists for generations.

The fish travel hundreds of thousands of kilometres through the ocean and then fight the current swimming upstream to spawn -- and die -- in the same fresh water where they hatched.

The juvenile salmon then make the same journey in reverse to find the ocean foraging grounds of their forebears.

"Given that the animals have never been there before, how do they find their way?" asks Nathan Putman, a biologist at the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University and lead author of a new study that may have the answer.

It's been a widely held belief that ocean current delivers the salmon to these spots, but Putman and his colleagues found that doesn't appear to be the case.

"While this can certainly help in some situations, more recent studies suggest that it isn't entirely reliable," he says in an email.

A study by the same researchers last year on B.C. salmon in the Fraser River suggested adults used the magnetic field to find home.

To test that theory further, Putman and his colleagues built a wooden frame that they wrapped with copper wires running horizontally and vertically, through which they ran electrical current to simulate Earth's magnetic field.

They placed juvenile fish from the Willamette River Basin in Oregon in large buckets within the frame. Photographs from a camera overhead showed the chinook detected subtle changes in the magnetic field that they used like an internal GPS to change direction.

The combination of the magnetic intensity, which grows stronger toward the poles, and the inclination angle of the magnetic field create a sort of grid that the salmon instinctually use as an inherited magnetic map, Putman says. …

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