Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 197, Issue 2, pp 141–151 | Cite as

Hydrodynamic trail following in a California sea lion (Zalophus californianus)

  • Nele Gläser
  • Sven Wieskotten
  • Christian Otter
  • Guido Dehnhardt
  • Wolf Hanke
Original Paper


The mystacial vibrissae of pinnipeds constitute a sensory system for active touch and detection of hydrodynamic events. Harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) and California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) can both detect hydrodynamic stimuli caused by a small sphere vibrating in the water (hydrodynamic dipole stimuli). Hydrodynamic trail following has only been shown in harbour seals. Hydrodynamical and biomechanical studies of single vibrissae of the two species showed that the specialized undulated structure of harbour seal vibrissae, as opposed to the smooth structure of sea lion vibrissae, suppresses self-generated noise in the actively moving animal. Here we tested whether also sea lions were able to perform hydrodynamic trail following in spite of their non-specialized hair structure. Hydrodynamic trails were generated by a remote-controlled miniature submarine. Linear trails could be followed with high accuracy, comparable to the performance of harbour seals, but in contrast, increasing delay resulted in a reduced performance as compared to harbour seals. The results of this study are consistent with the hypothesis that structural differences in the vibrissal hair types of otariid compared to phocid pinnipeds lead to different sensitivity of the vibrissae during forward swimming, but still reveal a good performance even in the species with non-specialized hair type.


Sea lion Mystacial vibrissae Hydrodynamic trail following Vibrissal hair types 



We thank the directors and staff of Zoo Duisburg for their great cooperation. This study was supported by grants of the Volkswagenstiftung to GD, and the German Research Foundation (DFG) to GD and WH (SPP 1207). The experiments were carried out under the guidelines established by the European Communities Council Directive of 24 November 1986 (86/609/EEC).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nele Gläser
    • 1
    • 2
  • Sven Wieskotten
    • 1
    • 2
  • Christian Otter
    • 1
    • 2
  • Guido Dehnhardt
    • 1
    • 2
  • Wolf Hanke
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute for BiosciencesRostock UniversityRostockGermany
  2. 2.Marine Science CenterRostockGermany

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