WASHINGTON - Baby tropical fish, drifting at the mercy of ocean currents,
probably follow their noses back to their home reefs when they grow large
enough to swim, researchers said on Monday.
Fish that dwell on Australia's Great Barrier Reef generally like to stick
close to home, where they know where to find food and hide from predators.
But in their first few weeks of life, lacking the ability to swim, larval
fish can drift up to 20 miles (30 km) from where they were born. They likely
rely on their sense of smell to make their way back home, according to
scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
Much as subway riders look for signs to make sure they are on the right
train, the fish use smell to find an ocean current, several of the
facility's biologists found.
"Fish have as good a nose as anybody," said Jelle Atema, a professor at
Boston University and Woods Hole who took part in the research. "You think
of dogs and rats as super smellers but eels and catfish and hammerhead
sharks are at least as good."
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