Dolphins have often been regarded as one of the most intelligent species in the world. The findings of a recent study may indicate that we finally have to face a grim reality: Dolphins are probably actually smarter than us. OK, that might be a premature statement, but there's a lot more going on with dolphins that we originally thought.
A study released Monday, Sept. 29 found that dolphins are attracted to magnets. This is way more impressive than jumping through a hoop, wouldn't you say?
The study set out to see if cetaceans, the order of animals that sea mammals such as dolphins, whales and porpoises belong to, are magnetoreceptive, meaning that they can detect magnetic fields. The researchers looked at how six captive bottlenose dolphins reacted to two magnetized and demagnetized devices as they swam. The dolphins approached the magnetized block "with shorter latency" than the demagnetized block.
Since both devices were identical in form and density, the dolphins couldn't have distinguished between the two using their echolocation skills, which allow them to find objects using reflected sound. The researchers concluded that this means dolphins can sense magnets, which is "a prerequisite for magnetoreception-based navigation," according to the study's abstract.
Why dolphins may be attracted to magnets still remains a mystery. Some scientists believe that animals that can sense magnets have small ferromagnetic particles in their cells, such as magnetite, that react with magnetic fields and tip off the nervous system. Although dolphins have magnetite in their brain membranes, the researchers said that doesn't prove the reaction took place in this study.
As the researchers mention in the abstract, there isn't much experimental evidence out there that suggests that animals such as dolphins are sensitive to geomagnetic fields. So if the results of this study can be replicated, it could be a pretty big win. As TIME points out, researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine found in 2012 that pigeons have magnetosensitive GPS cells in their brains. Scientists also believe that other animals, such as rodents, deer and insects, show signs of magnetoreception.
It seems like every day, we discover more and more about the brilliant and enigmatic dolphin. In recent years, we've learned that dolphins can have memories that last a lifetime, can stay alert for up to 15 days at a time without showing signs of fatigue and may be just as good at problem-solving as humans. So basically, dolphins are just as cool, if not cooler, than we are.