Researchers Discover The Sixth Sense

[Vince Smith from London, United Kingdom, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons]

Scientists have made a stunning breakthrough. The sixth sense, something many of us have experienced, has been identified. That is in dolphins, at least. 

German researchers recently announced that bottlenose dolphins can sense electric fields underwater, an ability that helps them hunt more effectively while in the depths of the ocean. 

“Scientists at the Nuremberg Zoo in Germany have discovered a previously unknown sensory ability in bottlenose dolphins: electroreception,” writes Study Finds. “The truly shocking finding bridges the gap between dolphins and other known electroreceptive animals and adds a new understanding of how these charismatic creatures interact with their underwater world.

Electroreception, the ability to perceive weak electric fields, is typically associated with aquatic or semi-aquatic species. This sensory skill, fascinating in its own right, has been a focus of extensive research in marine biology, predominantly observed in weakly electric fishes and some amphibian species. However, the revelation that bottlenose dolphins possess this ability challenges our perception and expands our understanding of marine sensory biology.

Imagine a dolphin navigating the ocean’s depths, its path illuminated not by light but by the faint electrical signals of hidden prey. This ability could revolutionize our understanding of their foraging strategies, especially in challenging environments. Moreover, this sixth sense might extend beyond foraging, potentially playing a role in navigation and communication within the vast and varied tapestry of the ocean.

The study involved two female bottlenose dolphins named Dolly and Donna. Led by prominent marine biologists Tim Hüttner and Guido Dehnhard, the research team designed an intricate experiment to test the dolphins’ ability to detect electric fields. The setup included a carefully constructed apparatus in a controlled pool environment, where the dolphins were exposed to both direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC) electric fields.”

Recognizable by their distinctively curved “bottle-shaped” snouts, these dolphins are social animals that often travel in groups called pods. Known for their playful behavior, acrobatic displays, and sophisticated communication skills, bottlenose dolphins are a popular species for scientific research and are frequently encountered by humans in coastal areas.

The dolphins used in the study accurately detected electric fields 90 percent of the time when the fields pulsed under 125 microvolts a centimeter, revealing a similar “sixth sense” similar to a platypus. 

Scientists observing the dolphins stated that although their sensitivity was lower than that of the shark or ray, their hidden ability, writes The New York Post, “may facilitate short-range prey detection and target-oriented snapping of their prey.”

“Furthermore, the ability to detect weak electric fields may enable dolphins to perceive the Earth’s magnetic field through induction-based magnetoreception, thus allowing large-scale orientation,” the researchers wrote.

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