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Whiskers sense prey movement: harbor seals


Harbor seal and whiskers / Tambako The .. / LicenseCC-by-sa - Attribution Share Alike

Whiskers of harbor seals detect prey with spectral sensitivity tuned to the frequency range of fish-generated water movement.

"Harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) can use their whiskers to detect minute water movements. The high sensitivity of this sensory system should allow a seal to gain hydrodynamic information resulting from movements of other aquatic animals, such as prey, predators or conspecifics. Our results show that the whiskers of harbour seals form a hydrodynamic receptor system with a spectral sensitivity that is well tuned to the frequency range of fish-generated water movements." (Dehnhardt et al. 1998:235-236)

"Water movements in the wake of fishes persist for several minutes. Here we show that blindfolded seals can use their whiskers to detect and accurately follow hydrodynamic trails generated by a miniature submarine. This shows that hydrodynamic information can be used for long-distance prey location." (Dehnhardt et al. 2001:102)
About the inspiring organism
Harbor Seal
Phoca vitulina Linnaeus, 1758
Common name: Harbor seal

Learn more at
Some organism data provided by: ITIS: The Integrated Taxonomic Information System
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist

Threat Categories LONG_LC IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern

Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: Navigation model for underwater craft.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Transportation

Marine Science Center
Prof. Dr. Guido Dehnhardt
University of Rostock
Dehnhardt, G; Mauck, B; Bleckmann, H. 1998. Seal whiskers detect water movements. Nature. 394(6690): 235-236.
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Dehnhardt, G; Mauck, B; Hanke, W. 2001. Hydrodynamic trail-following in harbor seals (Phoca vitulina). Science. 293(5527): 102-104.
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