Elasmobranchs (sharks, skates, and rays) migrate across a wide range of spatiotemporal scales, display philopatry, seasonal residency, and maintain home ranges. Many animals use the Earth’s magnetic field to orient and navigate between habitats. The geomagnetic field provides a variety of sensory cues to
magnetically sensitive species, which could potentially use the polarity, or intensity and inclination angle of the field, to derive a sense of direction, or location, during migration. Magnetoreception has never been unequivocally demonstrated in any elasmobranch species and the cognitive abilities of these
fishes are poorly studied. This project used behavioral conditioning assays that paired magnetic and reinforcement stimuli in order to elicit behavioral responses. The specific goals were to determine if the yellow stingray, Urobatis jamaicensis, could detect magnetic fields, to quantify the nature of the magnetic stimuli it could detect, and to quantify the learning and memory capabilities of this species. The results supported the original hypotheses and demonstrated that the yellow stingray could: discriminate between magnetic and non-magnetic objects; detect and discriminate between changes in geomagnetic field strength and inclination angle; and use geomagnetic field polarity to solve a navigational task. The yellow stingray learned behavioral tasks faster and retained the memories of learned associations longer than any batoid (skate or ray) to date. The data also suggest that this species can classify magnetic field stimuli into categories and learn similar behavioral tasks with increased efficiency, which indicate behavioral flexibility. These data support the idea that cartilaginous fishes use the geomagnetic field as an environmental cue to derive a sense of location and direction during migrations. Future studies should investigate the mechanism, physiological threshold, and sensitivity range of the elasmobranch magnetic sense in order to understand the effects of anthropogenic activities and environmental change on the migratory ability of these fishes.