Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 199, Issue 6, pp 521–533 | Cite as

Vibrissal touch sensing in the harbor seal (Phoca vitulina): how do seals judge size?

  • Robyn Grant
  • Sven Wieskotten
  • Nina Wengst
  • Tony Prescott
  • Guido Dehnhardt
Original Paper

Abstract

“Whisker specialists” such as rats, shrews, and seals actively employ their whiskers to explore their environments and extract object properties such as size, shape, and texture. It has been suggested that whiskers could be used to discriminate between different sized objects in one of two ways: (i) to use whisker positions, such as angular position, spread or amplitude to approximate size; or (ii) to calculate the number of whiskers that contact an object. This study describes in detail how two adult harbor seals use their whiskers to differentiate between three sizes of disk. The seals judged size very fast, taking <400 ms. In addition, they oriented their smaller, most rostral, ventral whiskers to the disks, so that more whiskers contacted the surface, complying to a maximal contact sensing strategy. Data from this study supports the suggestion that it is the number of whisker contacts that predict disk size, rather than how the whiskers are positioned (angular position), the degree to which they are moved (amplitude) or how spread out they are (angular spread).

Keywords

Whiskers Haptic Active touch Aquatic Maximal contact 

Supplementary material

359_2013_797_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (231 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 231 kb)

Supplementary material 2 (AVI 1667 kb)

Supplementary material 3 (AVI 6056 kb)

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robyn Grant
    • 1
    • 2
  • Sven Wieskotten
    • 3
  • Nina Wengst
    • 3
  • Tony Prescott
    • 1
  • Guido Dehnhardt
    • 3
  1. 1.Active Touch LaboratoryUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK
  2. 2.Division of Biology and Conservation EcologyManchester Metropolitan UniversityManchesterUK
  3. 3.Marine Science CenterUniversity of RostockRostockGermany

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