"Mystery of Mysteries" The Migration of Salmon

Animal migration is a truly fascinating phenomenon.  We are familiar with the migration of birds and salmon, and have chalked it up to “instinct.” But science is delving into the “how” questions and are coming up with some interesting speculations and findings that are helping to put more definition to “instinct.”

Read the following article about salmon migration and be prepared to find your jaw dropping in wonderment and awe.

“Mystery of Mysteries” in a Tiny Fish

salmon fry.jpg

Here are some snippets from the article to whet your curiosity.

‘True’ navigation is the ability of an animal to travel to a relatively precise target at a considerable distance without the need for familiar landmarks. To do this, the navigator must normally have a ‘map’ to show where it is relative to its goal. Having inferred the direction to the target from this map, the organism then needs a compass to steer itself along the appropriate vector. (Emphasis added.) –


The challenges of long-distance oceanic navigation are considerable, especially when compared to terrestrial navigation. For instance, migratory songbirds making their first migration to a distant, unknown site inherit a simple program in which they maintain a fixed compass course for a set duration of time that leads them, approximately, to their goal. Although birds can be deflected by winds while migrating, they often mitigate drift by maintaining visual contact with the ground and by landing when conditions are adverse. Oceanic migrants, however, are continuously susceptible to the influence of currents. They lack stationary visual references against which current drift can be gauged and cannot “land” when conditions are unfavorable. Thus, the clock-and-compass mechanism used by many birds during their first migration is unlikely to be viable for migrants in the open ocean and indeed is inadequate to explain the distribution of juvenile Chinook salmon during the early stages of their ocean migration. –

And more

We suggest that the use of a large-scale magnetic map might support the successful life history of many marine migrants, allowing them to make efficient use of the spatiotemporal variability in ocean productivity and facilitating ontogenetic shifts in habitat utilization to exploit the environments that are best suited for different life stages. Given that such navigational systems have now been reported in two phylogenetically distant taxa (sea turtles and salmon), it appears likely that similar navigational systems also exist in other marine species with similar life-history patterns. –

Now I dare to enter the fray and speculate as to how a fish could possible accomplish such a two-way migration.

It seems plausible given what is known, that the earths magnetic fields play a part in animal migration, and it seems plausible that the salmon somehow has a map built into its DNA and cellular structure. 

I have a different speculation, also based on magnetic fields but with a twist.

I base my speculations on a couple of fundamental things:

  • My agreement with the scientific theory of Intelligent Design (ID) where often ID is the best explanation of a natural phenomenon rather than unguided purposeless evolution.
  • My 30+ years of experience as a software developer working with complex, distributed and real-time systems.

My theory on the migration of salmon is two-fold as follows.

  1. I wonder if the earth’s magnetic waves contain information – specific and specified digital and/or analog information containing data useful for the migratory fish.
  2. If the magnetic waves do contain specific information, then it would be reasonable to speculate that the salmon might have methods and mechanisms to receive that data and process it.  In other words, maybe it’s not a map the salmon have, but a computer program that navigates in real time based on  knowledge of its it’s own real-time earth centered position and the data it is receiving from the magnetic waves. 

Magnetic waves containing specific navigational information might sound crazy and off-the-wall, but maybe not … consider:

In todays high technology world we have an enormous amount of data flowing all around us all the time, in the form of cell phone conversations, television and radio broadcasts, GPS navigational data and much more. All of this is contained in what is called the electro-magnetic spectrum.

A part of this electro-magnetic spectrum we can actually sense and utilize in the form of vision and hearing, as well as our skins sensitivity to radiation from the sun. And different types of  animals are sensitive to different parts of the spectrum.

In the world of computer based information processing systems where  I spent close to 40 years, we see a wide variety of information protocols such as:  Ethernet, serial data RS-232/RS 422, HDMA, TCP/IP TDMA, CDMA, FDMA, GPS and on and on. Each of these protocols is based on the concept of packets containing specific information. The packets are bracketed by headers and trailers defining the extent of the data and for some protocols, the specific target address of the data packet.  The hardware and software tasked with the interfaces to the data streams are designed to look for these message “headers” and when found, capture the specific data for downstream processing.

Human designed information systems also have discrete hardware end points designed and  tuned to the particular protocol requirements of the protocols. we see cell phone towers across the landscape transmitting and receiving  our conversation with family and friends. On these towers we see antenna which are designed and tuned to specific frequency bands, and in general are either  directional or Omni-directional.

*   *   *   *

So what about the salmon?

At this point, I must speculate that the mystery of salmon navigation is analogous to our well known Global Positioning System (GPS). The GPS bathes the earth in multiple frequency  ranging signals which are detected by GPS receivers, and coupled with the knowledge of the position of the transmitting GPS satellites, can measure the distance between the satellite and the receiver. With a minimal set of 4 such measurements, the precise location of the receiver is computed and made available to the user. The GPS concept is actually quite simple, and requires minimal computational capability on the part of the end user.

So my theory requires two things:  first a system of magnetic fields capable of bathing the earth with information sufficient to supply accurate earth centered position to a complementary system capable of receiving such information and converting it to earth centered position.  Secondly, there must be a biological system capable of interfacing with the electro-magnetic spectrum.

The positioning capable electro-magnetic spectrum is probably the easier of the two parts of this theory to solve, for the reasons given above and our deep  understanding of such things.

The second part, the biological part has to be by far the more difficult problem to solve. Mechanically, it is not difficult to speculate that the body of the fish, with its fins and body surface capable of providing some sort of biological antenna.

But the biological to electro-magnetic interface? Wow … how do you get your scientific arms around that?

This I do not know … 

But here is what I do know:

Animals actually do interface in many ways with the electro-magnetic spectrum as I pointed out previously, so a point of investigation would seem to be a study of these interfaces at the cellular and molecular levels.

And as far as the electro-magnetic spectrum containing naturally occurring navigational information, perhaps this could be studied by assembling a team of physicists, mathematicians, engineers and technicians to capture and analyze the data and look for novel ways in which precise location  could be derived. from the spectrum.

And this is what else I do know …

Darwinian evolutionists, in particular evolutionary biologists, will  contribute little or nothing to solving the mystery of the navigation salmon –  more than likely they would hinder such an effort. For this reason I would specifically exclude Darwinian evolutionists from the research teams.

So what do you say … when can we start assembling these teams?

The potential benefits would seem to be plentiful.


Don Johnson – March 2014


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