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Animal Sat Nav

Key facts

There are a number of ways to navigate:

  • Celestial
  • Magnetic
  • Dead or visual reckoning
  • Sound
  • Smell

Latest Reports

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Recent reports:

Latest Comments

"I am very interested in the technology of real-time animal trackers. How do the latest systems work? Do they comprise a GPS module and satellite modem? Are there standard modules which can be bought?…"

Mike Newman

Get in touch if you've got any comments or questions on the Animal Sat Nav.

Animal Sat Nav

It’s one of the wonders of the natural world - the ability to travel thousands of kilometres across the surface of the earth to a very specific location. How do they do it?

At the beginning of April, the Royal Institute of Navigation invited a range of the world’s leading scientists to present their answers to this question.

You can now listen to all these talks at their website.

Themes information

There are big questions, big science and nothing short of jaw dropping wonder as we ask: How do animals find their way around?

An extreme example is the Emperor Penguin. This is the largest seabird in the world and lives in the southern oceans, emerging once a year onto the Antarctic ice shelf to breed. The biology of this animal is spectacular enough: the male incubates the single egg all winter whilst his partner feeds. She returns at the beginning of the Antarctic summer to be greeted by a substantially thinner partner and a hungry penguin chick. This photogenic family scene on the ice takes place about 100 miles inland of the ice edge. Both animals have arrived there independently and found each other. What’s even more remarkable is several thousand other individuals have also returned to the exact same spot. And not just in one year, but every year.

The Antarctic ice moves inexorably down hill to the edge, where it breaks off in great chunks to form the bergs that littler the ocean in the summer. Any ice sculptures that might characterise a particular bit of ice where the penguins breed would change radically in any year.

How can an Emperor Penguin navigate through the ocean to the right bit of the ice edge, and each year find the same spot on earth even though the icescape around it is moving and changing?

There are a number of possibilities and these can be applied to all animal migrations:

  • Celestial
  • Magnetic
  • Dead or Visual Reckoning
  • Sound
  • Smell

But how, and how are the cues used? And where does that leave us with the Emperor Penguin? We're exploring these questions throughout the series. We'll be tagging the reports that deal with navigation and they'll be available on this page as soon as they come in.

Hear the latest theories from the world's leading scientists on animal navigation at the Royal Institute of Navigation media site.

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