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J Exp Biol. 2007 Mar;210(Pt 5):781-7.

Tracking of biogenic hydrodynamic trails in harbour seals (Phoca vitulina).

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Ruhr-Universit├Ąt Bochum, Allgemeine Zoologie and Neurobiologie, Bochum, Germany.


For seals hunting in dark and murky waters one source of sensory information for locating prey consists of fish-generated water movements, which they can detect using their highly sensitive mystacial vibrissae. As water movements in the wake of fishes can persist for several minutes, hydrodynamic trails of considerable length are generated. It has been demonstrated that seals can use their vibrissae to detect and track hydrodynamic trails generated artificially by miniature submarines. In the present study, we trained a harbour seal to swim predefined courses, thus generating biogenic hydrodynamic trails. The structure of these trails was measured using Particle Image Velocimetry. A second seal was trained to search for and track the trail after the trail-generating seal had left the water. Our trail-following seal was able to detect and accurately track the hydrodynamic trail, showing search patterns either mostly congruent with the trail or crossing the trail repeatedly in an undulatory way. The undulatory trail-following search pattern might allow a seal to relocate a lost trail or successfully track a fleeing, zigzagging prey fish.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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