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Naturwissenschaften. 2000 Nov;87(11):499-502.

Salinity discrimination in harbour seals: a sensory basis for spatial orientation in the marine environment?

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Institut für Zoologie, Universität Bonn, Poppelsdorfer Schloss, 53115 Bonn, Germany.


Salinity variations can be considered as a potential source of information for orientation in the marine environment. To use this kind of environmental information marine animals must be able to detect these salinity differences. Therefore we determined salinity-difference thresholds of two harbour seals for the discrimination of seawater solutions as a function of the salinity level (15-35@1000) and compared them with the thresholds of human subjects. Whereas in humans thresholds increased with increasing salinity level, thresholds of seals decreased with increasing salinity level. Both seals achieved best sensitivity at 30/1000 salinity, where they detected a salinity difference < or = 4%. These data indicate that the ability of seals to detect salinity differences of seawater is well tuned to the natural occurrence of this environmental information. Their high gustatory resolving power for differences in seawater salinity is suggested to meet the basic requirements for chemosensory orientation of seals in the marine habitat.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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