Sensitive whiskers turn seals into master hunters

The Marine Science Center in Rostock has come up with new findings on the sensory perception of seals - Publication and animated short film

Seehund blickt in die Kamera
Filou the seal during training (Credit: Fabian Fiechter)

Seals – we all find them cute, the clever fish hunters with their big googly eyes and long beard hairs on their pointed muzzle. Prof. Dr. Guido Dehnhardt and his team from the Marine Science Center at the University of Rostock  have long been aware that these hairs are the secret to the animals’ extraordinary sensory perceptions.

Now they found that thanks to these extremely sensitive whiskers, or vibrissae, seals can discern important information that helps them hunt for fish – even from a single circular vortex in the water.

The French science journal Sciences et Avenir has produced a short animated film about this: Et si le phoque commun localisait ses proies grace a des vortex? 

Details of the current research being done on this topic by Yvonne Krüger, Wolf Hanke, Lars Miersch and Guido Dehnhardt can be found in “The Journal of Experimental Biology” 2018: jeb.170753 doi: 10.1242 / jeb.170753, published on February 27, 2018: "Detection and direction discrimination of single vortex rings by harbour seals (Phoca vitulina)".

Seal research at the Marine Science Center Rostock – a video portrait of Guido Dehnhardt (in German)