Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Seals sense shapes using their whiskers to feel wakes

12.05.2011
Hunting in the North Sea, harbour seals often encounter murky water that impedes their vision; but it doesn't affect their ability to chase prey.

Extending their vibration-sensitive whiskers, the mammals are almost as efficient at pursuing their quarry as they would be if guided by sight. Wolf Hanke and his colleagues from the University of Rostock, Germany, are fascinated by how harbour seals perceive the world through their flow-sensitive vibrissae.

Having already found that seals can pick up and follow fish wakes up to 35 seconds after the prey has passed and knowing that a fish's size and shape can dramatically affect its wake structure, graduate student Sven Wieskotten decided to find out how well seals can distinguish between the wakes of objects with different shapes and sizes. The team publishes their discovery that harbour seals can detect differences in the wakes generated by differently shaped objects using only their whiskers in The Journal of Experimental Biology at http://jeb.biologists.org/content/214/11/1922.abstract

Teaming up with Henry the harbour seal at the Marine Science Centre, Germany, Hanke, Wieskotten and their colleagues, Lars Miersch and Guido Dehnhardt, began testing Henry's ability to distinguish between the wakes of differently sized paddles. The researchers blindfolded Henry and covered his ears, then they swept a paddle through a large box in Henry's enclosure and allowed him to enter it 3ƒn seconds later. Having trained Henry to press a target outside the enclosure when he recognised the wake of a standard paddle and to press a different target when he recognised the wake from a larger or smaller paddle, the team found that Henry could distinguish between paddles that differed by as little as 2.8cm in width.

Then, the team tested which aspects of the wake the seal picked up on. 'We randomised the speeds of the paddles so that the 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 ¡V which cost too much to pursue ¡V and the perfect lunch based on their wakes alone, that could improve its hunting efficiency enormously.

IF REPORTING ON THIS STORY, PLEASE MENTION THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY AS THE SOURCE AND, IF REPORTING ONLINE, PLEASE CARRY A LINK TO: http://jeb.biologists.org

REFERENCE: Wieskotten, S., Mauck, B., Miersch, L., Dehnhardt, G. and Hanke, W. (2011). Hydrodynamic discrimination of wakes caused by objects of different size or shape in a harbour seal (Phoca vitulina). J. Exp. Biol. 214, 1922-1930.

Kathryn Knight | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.biologists.com
http://jeb.biologists.org

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht How brains surrender to sleep
23.06.2017 | IMP - Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pathologie GmbH

nachricht A new technique isolates neuronal activity during memory consolidation
22.06.2017 | Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>