Thursday, 19 January 2017

Intelligent Design: Seals Use Their Whiskers to Detect Fish Hidden in Sand

These whiskers were made to detect fish. Image courtesy of Marcel Burkhard, Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0 DE).

Joel Kontinen

New research published in the Journal of Experimental Biology suggests that seals use their whiskers to detect fish hidden beneath sand.

An article in New Scientist states:

Harbour seals use their whiskers to follow underwater vibrations rippling away from gills of fish so they can home in on prey.”

They can do this even when their meal is covered with sand.

This discovery has prompted engineers to build a device for detecting underwater disturbances. Collen Reichmuth, a marine biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, explains:

It has a variety of purposes, but the most obvious one is related to military defence, being able to detect and track moving objects underwater and being able to do it potentially quietly without using active sonar.”

This is not the first time that whiskers have made headlines. In 2014, Wired published an article entitled Tactile electronic cat whiskers could help robots 'feel' their surroundings.

Hi-tech whiskers don’t just appear out of thin air. They have to be designed. And that is something the Darwinian blind watchmaker cannot do.

Researchers have also drawn inspiration for robots from butterfly wings, octopuses, fruit flies and dragonflies, for instance.


Whyte, Chelsea. 2017. Seals hunt down hidden fish by sensing their breath in the sand. New Scientist (18 January).