Whiskers enhance seals’ ability to hunt, researchers say.
New research has discovered the importance of whiskers for seals. Scientists proved that seals are good hunters because of their whiskers’ shape.
As a matter of fact whiskers play approximately the same role for all mammals that have them. That is the tactile role, which offers mammals the possibility to touch and feel even for those lacking hands.
Among other things, whiskers help the animals orient their muzzle, perceive movement and maintain their equilibrium.
However, seals’ whiskers seem to be a little different, in the sense that they are more important and precise than other whiskers.
A new study which was published in Smart Materials and Structures journal this week revealed that this whiskers’ wavy shape makes them so efficient.
For example, when a fish swims not far away from a seal, its movements agitate the water. The disturbed water’s frequencies make the seal’s whiskers vibrate. These vibrations are then transmitted to the seal’s brain, thus giving the animal the possibility of detecting the prey’s size, shape and course.
Thus, whiskers enhance seals’ ability to hunt as their wavy shape makes them detect external vibrations, independent of the seal’s movements.
“It’s marvelous to see this intricate pattern, it’s not just a straight antenna — it’s a perfect sinusoid,” said Michael Triantafyllou, a mechanical engineer and the study’s lead author.
Only a few seal species have this kind of wavy whiskers. Sea lions and walruses have straight whiskers.
The research was made using artificial whiskers. Plastic whiskers were used in order to test vibrations in the water so as to better understand how they actually help the seal.
Researchers believe that the shape of these whiskers could inspire the development of better devices that are used to track underwater animals.
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