Seals use their whiskers to track down their prey in the deep, dark ocean, according to a study that observed the sea creatures in their natural habitat.
Because light can’t penetrate the darkness of the ocean’s depths, animals have devised a range of adaptations to survive and hunt there. Whales and dolphins, for example, use echolocation to locate prey by making clicky noises into the water and listening to their echo when it bounces off potential prey. Deep-diving seals, on the other hand, must have evolved to use a different sensory approach because they don’t have those same acoustic projectors.
Given the difficulty of actually viewing the hunters in the tenebrous depths of the ocean, scientists have long hypothesized that their secret weapons are their long, cat-like whiskers, conducting over 20 years of trials with artificial whiskers or captive seals blindfolded in a pool.
According to Taiki Adachi, assistant project scientist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and one of the lead authors of the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, a study may have proven the notion.
In California’s Ao Nuevo state park, Adachi and his crew placed small video cameras with infrared night-vision on the left cheek, lower jaw, back, and head of five free-ranging northern elephant seals, Mirounga angustirostris. During their seasonal journey, they captured around nine and a half hours of deep water film.
Lead Image: Female northern elephant seal at Año Nuevo state park in California. Photograph: Taiki Adachi/Reuters.
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