Diving in darkness: whiskers as sense organs of the ringed seal (Phoca hispida saimensis)
Article first published online: 24 MAR 2009
Journal of Zoology
Volume 218, Issue 4, pages 663–678, August 1989
How to Cite
HYVÄRINEN, H. (1989), Diving in darkness: whiskers as sense organs of the ringed seal (Phoca hispida saimensis). Journal of Zoology, 218: 663–678. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7998.1989.tb05008.x
- Issue published online: 24 MAR 2009
- Article first published online: 24 MAR 2009
- Accepted 25 October 1988
Underwater vocalization and the functional structure of different vibrissae of the ringed seal (Phoca hispida saimensis) of Lake Saimaa, Eastern Finland, were studied. These seals live in darkness under the ice cover for several months during the year. It is known that blind seals are managing well in the lake. Visibility under water in some parts of the area where the seals live is only 2 m. It is suggested that echolocation is used in orientation and feeding. The Saimaa seal has click and click trial underwater vocalizations. However, both the frequency and intensity of the vocalization are low compared with, for example, those of dolphins. The structural adaptations for underwater sound localization are also not well developed.
The ringed seal has, however, extremely well-developed vibrissae. The innervation of one vibrissa is more than 10 times greater than normally found in mammals. The main structural deviations from normal mammalian vibrissae are: (1) an upper cavernous sinus, (2) a groove in the wall of the capsule at the level of the lower cavernous sinus, (3) elasticity of the connective tissue bands fixing the hair root to the capsule in the lower cavernous sinus and especially (4) the structure and innervation of the ring sinus area. Sensory elements are situated upon the glassy membrane on the surface of the outer rootsheath and in the basal cell layer of the outer rootsheath which is like a sensory epithelium. Below this epithelium a layer of liquid or gelatinous material and large amounts of glycogen are found. This sensory epithelium is especially well developed in the superciliary vibrissae. These vibrissae are protruded some millimetres when the seals are attentive. It is suggested that the vibrissae also sense sounds, which are transmitted to the sensory elements by tissue conduction through the capsule wall and via the blood sinuses. The seals may possibly detect compressional waves with the vibrissae.