While our facial whiskers have little tactile functionality, harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) whiskers, or vibrissae, have comparable sensitivity to human hands! Just as we use our hands to explore our environment, pinnipeds use their vibrissae to gather environmental information both above and below water. Harbor seals can discriminate different surfaces and shapes of objects as well as discriminate between types of underwater wakes, which may be beneficial to identifying prey or avoiding predators.
Sketch and fact contributed by Karli Chudeau
Murphy, C.T., Reichmuth, C., & Mann, D. (2015). Vibrissal sensitivity in a harbor seal (Phoca vitulina). Journal of Experimental Biology, 218, 2463-2471. DOI:10.1242/jeb.118240.
Wieskotten, S., Mauck, B., Miersch, L., Dehnhardt, G., & Hanke, W. (2011). Hydrodynamic discrimination of wakes caused by objects of different size or shape in a harbour seal (Phoca vitulina). Journal of Experimental Biology, 214, 1922-1930. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.053926