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Seals sense shapes using their whiskers to feel wakes
Date:5/11/2011

maximum flow velocity wasn't a distinguishing cue for the widest paddles, but the structure of the wake had to be recognised by the seal and he could do that too, but with slightly less accuracy,' remembers Hanke.

Next, the team varied the paddle shapes and asked Henry to distinguish between the wakes of triangular, cylindrical, flat and undulating paddles. The seal successfully distinguished between the flat and cylindrical paddles, the flat and undulating paddles and the undulating and cylindrical paddles after they were swept through the enclosure. However, he had problems distinguishing the triangular paddle from the undulating or cylindrical shapes.

Having found that Henry can distinguish between the wakes of different passing objects and investigated the structure of each paddle's wake with digital particle image velocimetry, Hanke says, 'It is difficult to tell which part of the wake serves the animal most and which aided only a little.' So, Hanke is keen to test Henry's responses to single vortices to find out which wake components might give a fish's size and shape away. He explains that hunting seals have to optimise the amount of energy that they ingest while hunting so, if a seal can distinguish between small skinny fish which cost too much to pursue and the perfect lunch based on their wakes alone, that could improve its hunting efficiency enormously.


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Contact: Kathryn Knight
kathryn@biologists.com
44-787-634-4333
The Company of Biologists
Source:Eurekalert

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