May/14/13 08:29 PM
That began a long day for Seal Sitters, watching over the pup, nicknamed Carnation, until dark. Walkers, runners and bicyclists had lots of questions for volunteers - including one woman who was concerned the pup had a head wound. Our responder Lynn assured her that indeed it was the pup’s ear hole and not a wound, a common misconception by people who erroneously report dead harbor seals as shot in the head. In the photo here you can see that harbor seals (unlike sea lions) don’t have external ear flaps.
You can also see that Carnation has some unusually curly whiskers, known as vibrasse. These whiskers, filled with highly sensitive nerves, help seals locate food in the dark and in deep waters by picking up vibrations from moving prey. One recent scientific study reveals that seals may not only be able to detect fish up to 600 feet away using solely their whiskers, but also the size and shape of prey. Researcher Wolf Hanke says, “This strongly suggests that the seal can sense different species of fish. If the seal can avoid tracking fish that are too small or too big, this saves energy” (NY Times). Each highly sensitive whisker (seals have 40-50 on each side of their snout) has up to 1500 nerves at the base. The research shows that a harbor seal’s whiskers are as efficient at detecting fish as echolocating dolphins.
Thanks to all the volunteers who gave up their Mother’s Day to be an allomother (when a human or other animal provides maternal care for the young born by another) to Carnation!