In a neat new discovery, researchers have found that one species of dolphin has the ability to sense electricity. The Guiana dolphin, which is native to the east coast of South America, is able to detect the weak electrical signals emitted by nearby fish.
According to Discover Magazine, researchers examined small pits on the dolphin's nose, or vibrissal crypts, and found them to be connected to a number of nerves that reach the dolphin's brain. Suspecting these crypts to be sense organs, researchers tested Guiana dolphins' reactions to a mild electrical field with and without these crypts covered. Science Magazine reports that scientists "conducted 186 trials, presenting the dolphin with a range of electrical signals from low to high. The dolphin responded well even to low signals, displaying an electrosensitivity similar to that of platypuses."
The BBC reports that this dolphin lives in murky water where its prey is hard to see. According to head researcher Wolf Hanke at the University of Rostock in Germany, this "electrolocation" is also important because "echolocation doesn't work at very close range." The video from Newsy below explains that the researchers believe other dolphin species may also have the ability to electrolocate.
Scientists have known for some time that dolphins navigate using sonar, but this discovery reveals them to be even more impressive than previously thought. The Guiana dolphin shares this ability with sharks, rays and platypuses, but is the first "true mammal" known to be able to detect electrical fields.
The results of the study, which were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, come as towns in Japan prepare for their annual dolphin hunting season, and several months after a U.S. Navy training exercise killed several dolphins near San Diego.