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 Single-stranded DNA and RNA origami go live
15.12.2017 | Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard

nachricht New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists
15.12.2017 | Louisiana State University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: First-of-its-kind chemical oscillator offers new level of molecular control

DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.

Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Engineers program tiny robots to move, think like insects

15.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

One in 5 materials chemistry papers may be wrong, study suggests

15.12.2017 | Materials Sciences

New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists

15.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>