Reading Seals need their whiskers to track down their prey in dark, murky water based on water currents over long distances. This has been observed by scientists from the University of Bonn and the Ruhr University Bochum in the animals. Guido Dehnhardt and his colleagues report on their research in the science journal Science (Vol.292 No. 5528). With a small submarine, the biologists simulated the "trail" left by a fish in the water and trained the seals Henry and Nick to find this submarine. In the experiment, the two got a stocking mask over their eyes and then had to find the boat blind. An orientation over the noise excluded the researchers by giving the animals via a headphone a noise. Only after the engine had stopped, the researchers took off the headphones and Henry and Nick were allowed to start the search.

"The whiskers go forward, the animal latches itself in the lane and swims behind until it has the boat, " Dehnhardt describes the behavior of Nick and Henry. The whiskers help the animals to locate the water currents generated by the submarine. If you tie them together with a mask, the animals can no longer find the submarine. In further investigations Dehnhardt and his colleagues want to find out the maximum distance a seal can find a fish.

Marine animals must be able to locate their prey even in dark or murky water. For example, the dolphins have developed an echolocation system. They locate their prey by sound waves, measuring how long an echo takes to return to them. Researchers have long suspected that the whiskers of the seals are also a help in the hunt, but only for much shorter distances. The Cologne researchers have now shown that they play a crucial role even over long distances.

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