Meet 'Henry and Nick,' seals featured in Science study

water, and stopped a few seconds later. When researchers removed the headphones, that was the signal to begin the search. The researchers conducted the second experiment in clear water with Nick.

Findings: A frame-by-frame video analysis shows Henry clung to the murky water trail nearly 80 percent of the time, overall. Moreover, the seal:

  • Located the submarine in 256 out of 326 total attempts;
  • Found the submarine 24 out of 30 times when it wasn't allowed to begin searching immediately;
  • Found the submarine 26 out of 30 times when researchers altered its course mimicking a fish; and
  • Failed 30 out of 30 attempts when his whiskers were covered with a stocking mask.

In the fresh water pool Nick had similar results, even with a mask over his whiskers. In his case, researchers randomly tested whether the seal could find the trail after receiving a short, acoustic cue. The seal:

  • Located the submarine in 37 out of 45 trials (82 percent); and
  • Located the submarine in 10 out of 10 trials, beginning his search before the submarine motor was stopped.

Future Plans: Dehnhardt and his team say in order to figure out the greatest distance at which a seal can detect a fish, researchers need to know more about authentic conditions in the wild. In the experiments they were able to test the seal's abilities under optimal conditions. Now they plan to continue experiments with trained animals in the ocean.

Special Notes: Electronic images of Henry and Nick are available. Funding for the research was provided by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. The seals used in the experiments were treated in accordance with all regulations, and remain healthy and active.


Contact: Ginger Pinholster
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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