The keys to the sensory universe of seals

As sensitive as the tips of our fingers, the whiskers of seals are long sensory hairs that play a crucial role in navigating and detecting prey underwater, often in dark and murky environments. Their structure, arrangement, number, and growth vary by species, influencing their functionality. For example, the wavy structure of the whiskers of the common seal could largely dampen the sound produced by the animal’s own movement, thereby increasing precision in tracking prey.

Katherine Todd, a doctoral student at the University of Manchester, is dedicated to studying these whiskers to deepen our understanding of the sensory ecology of seals. The knowledge gained will illuminate how these animals interact with their habitat, thus guiding the direction of future conservation strategies. They will also pave the way for innovations in sensory enrichment for seals in zoos.

Our caretakers contribute to this research by measuring the whiskers of our walruses, Steller sea lions, and common seals on a weekly basis.


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