Seals have incredible navigation skills

Last Updated: Sunday, November 20, 2011 - 16:07

London: Seals are more clever than you thought. They have incredible navigation skills, and many are capable of finding their way back to the exact spot where they were born even after spending five years out at sea, according to scientists.

A team at the British Antarctic Survey has discovered the Antarctic fur seals` remarkable homing instinct allows the creatures to return to within a single body length of the spot where they were born to give birth to their own pups.

Nearly four million of the sea mammals breed in huge colonies on the virtually featureless beaches of South Georgia every year. After being born, the seals spend five years out at sea feeding before returning to the island to breed.

Using radio tags placed on 335 seals shortly after they were born, the scientists found each seal returns to exactly the same location on the beach once they start breeding year
after year.

But while typical human Global Positioning Systems, which use satellites orbiting the earth, can pinpoint a location to an accuracy of around 15 feet, the seals were found to be
accurate down to as little as six feet.

Exactly how the seals achieve this feat has left the scientists baffled, but they believe the creatures use a kind of internal compass that helps them find their way across the Southern Ocean to the correct location on the right beach.

Dr Jaume Forcada, a research scientist with the British Antarctic Survey, was quoted by
`The Daily Telegraph` as saying, "We don`t know exactly why but it is common among sea birds and other marine mammals to breed in large colonies.

"Antarctic fur seals are among the most site faithful. On average female seals were giving birth to their pups to within 12 metres (36 feet) of where they were pupped themselves.

"Some individuals returned to within one body length of where they had been born. We don`t have any evidence of a navigation system yet, but there must be something really,
really strong that brings them back to the same spot."

In fact, in their research, the team, which included Dr Joe Hoffman, from the University of Bielefeld in Germany, tagged 335 female seals as soon as they were born so they were able to record the location where they were born and compare it to when the seals returned to the beach five years later.

The seals that survived returned to the spot where they were born with unerring accuracy, according to the findings in the `Mammalian Biology and Planet Earth Online` journal.

"It helps them to create more stable communities in which to give birth and raise pups. When the seals are out at sea they tend to be more segregated and individuals tend not to spend time with those around them on the beach," Forcada said.

PTI



First Published: Sunday, November 20, 2011 - 16:07

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