Who Knew Seal Whiskers Were So Cool?

Friday, October 16, 2015 by Becca Stanley

While harbor seals may look cute and innocent, they are known for being great predators.  Researchers discovered that blindfolded seals could track the path of an object in water, that went by several seconds earlier.  Scientists hypothesize that this ability is due in large part to their whiskers.

Michael Triantafyllou and Heather Beem, at MIT have engineered an artificial whisker that may explain how seals use their whiskers to track prey and sense their environment.   After performing several experiments with the artificial whisker, they believe that the wavy shape of the seal’s whiskers may be the key. 

When the artificial whisker moved through calm water it barely vibrated.  However, when it moved through the water behind a cylinder that created a wake, the whisker vibrated a lot.  They think that these vibrations are how harbor seals are able to track their prey even when they can't see it. Seals may also learn information about the size and shape of the prey through the vibrations.  Triantafyllou and Beem believe that this sensing technology may be useful on underwater vehicles!

Source: Flicker

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