Marine animals spinning in circles

A new study published in iScience has collected rotatory behaviors of different marine species, putting forward several interesting hypotheses on the reason for this curious behavior. It could in fact be linked to courtship, foraging or orientation reasons. However, new research is still needed.

Why do some animals belonging to different groups such as turtles, sharks, penguins and mammals share the particularity of moving in circles? This is what a team of researchers who have put forward interesting hypotheses about this behavior in a study published in iScience wondered. It all started when Tomoko Narazaki of the Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute of the University of Tokyo and his team realized during a study in Africa that some green turtles (Chelonia mydas) were moving in circles rather than in a straight line. certainly more efficient and less tiring strategy in terms of energy. The marine species involved in the study The team then wondered what this rotational motion could be for and whether it was also present in other species. By contacting other researchers from various parts of the world, they collected data on some species of sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier, Rhincodon typus), sea turtles (Chelonia mydas), penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) and marine mammals (Arctocephalus gazella and Ziphius cavirostris). Thanks to the advances made in the field of biologging, ie the localization of animals through some devices, they were able to reconstruct their movements revealing that all these species made circles at constant angular speeds. Why do these animals move in circles? More research is needed to be able to demonstrate with certainty the function of this behavior, but the fact that it exists in so many different species is the starting point for carrying out new studies in the future. The researchers suggest that circular motion could be related to foraging for food, as the behavior was observed at foraging sites. For example, it has been seen that the shark Carcharhinus plumbeus makes circles right near the bottom, where it usually feeds. Furthermore, the circular movement is not entirely foreign to the marine megafauna: the humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are in fact famous for turning in circles, producing a whirlwind of bubbles to capture prey. Another hypothesis suggests that the circular motion could be traced back to courtship, as shown by a video of a tiger shark spinning in circles as it approached the female. Finally, orientation is certainly another plausible motivation: moving in circles could in fact allow to obtain information from the environment of various kinds: visual, olfactory and even magnetic.

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