Natures wonders: seal whiskers sense fish breathing (Introduction)

by David Turell @, Thursday, January 19, 2017, 18:54 (1032 days ago) @ David Turell

The whiskers can sense the water currents caused by fish gills:

"But a big part of a harbour seal’s menu is benthic fish – those that live on the sea floor and can stay stock-still. And as seals often hunt at night or in turbid waters, they still need to somehow find and zero in their prey.

"It turns out that when fish aren’t moving, they still emit currents passing water through their gills.

"To test if harbour seals might use these signals to detect benthic prey, Niesterok and his team created an artificial breathing current apparatus. Eight silent nozzles were set up on a platform in the water and seals were trained to find the one emitting a current.

"Even when blindfolded, the seals directly moved their snout towards the target nozzle and were able to find the active opening.

"It’s the first study to show that harbour seals can use weak water currents, such as those produced by fish gills, to detect benthic prey.

"A telling evolutionary link is that fish can hold their breath for several seconds in response to danger – an ability perhaps adapted in response to the detection skill of seals and other predators.

"These results are not unexpected, says Monique Ladds, a marine biologist at Macquarie University in Australia and who was not involved in the study.

"But importantly, she adds, the seals’ detection rates were lower when the researchers introduced background noise. And as humans make more noise in the ocean, it might affect their hunting skills."

Comment: Not surprising. Cats, dogs and other similar animals have long whiskers to give them enhanced sensitivity around their snouts.

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