Anthropogenic electromagnetic fields (EMF) influence the behaviour of bottom-dwelling marine species

Zoë L. Hutchison*, Andrew B. Gill, Peter Sigray, Haibo He, John W. King

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Many marine animals have evolved sensory abilities to use electric and magnetic cues in essential aspects of life history, such as to detect prey, predators and mates as well as to orientate and migrate. Potential disruption of vital cues by human activities must be understood in order to mitigate potential negative influences. Cable deployments in coastal waters are increasing worldwide, in capacity and number, owing to growing demands for electrical power and telecommunications. Increasingly, the local electromagnetic environment used by electro- and magneto-sensitive species will be altered. We quantified biologically relevant behavioural responses of the presumed, magneto-receptive American lobster and the electro-sensitive Little skate to electromagnetic field (EMF) emissions of a subsea high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission cable for domestic electricity supply. We demonstrate a striking increase in exploratory/foraging behaviour in skates in response to EMF and a more subtle exploratory response in lobsters. In addition, by directly measuring both the magnetic and electric field components of the EMF emitted by HVDC cables we found that there were DC and unexpectedly AC components. Modelling, restricted to the DC component, showed good agreement with measured results. Our cross-disciplinary study highlights the need to integrate an understanding of the natural and anthropogenic EMF environment together with the responses of sensitive animals when planning future cable deployments and predicting their environmental effects.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4219
Number of pages15
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 6 Mar 2020


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