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Along with their sonar, whales have other tricks they employ to keep themselves on track. Many researchers believe that whales and other migrating animals have a magnetic sense that helps them know which direction they're moving. Scientists know that a substance called biomagnitite helps many birds migrate by making them sensitive to changes in the earth's magnetic field. Cetaceans, the animal family to which whales belong, have biomagnitite in the retinas of their eyes, which may function in the same way.
The intensity of the earth's magnetic field fluctuates across the globe, and an animal able to sense these changes could potentially use them like a map. There is some evidence that toothed whales do this. Most magnetic field lines in the ocean run the same direction as the coastline. But in some places, they turn and run perpendicular to the shore. A whale riding this magnetic "road" might be more likely to strand in areas where the path turns. When researchers studied the magnetic field lines around beaches where groups of whales have repeatedly been found stranded, they found that in each instance, the magnetic paths turned shoreward.