By the whiskers

 
Published: Wednesday 30 September 1998

In the black depths of the night, a seal's extremely sensitive whiskers allow it to catch fish it cannot even see. Seals and sea lions do not use sonar like the bats. Instead, Guido Dehnardt and his colleagues from the University of Bonn in Germany suspected that their whiskers, which are well equipped with nerves, could possibly help them "see" their way in the dark. Sure enough, blind-folded harbour seals wearing earplugs could sense the tiniest of movements in the water from a distance. They could not do this when muzzles impeded their whiskers. This explains why, many blind but apparently well-nourished seals are observed in the wild, Dehnardt speculates.

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