Why do seals have whiskers? Listener Karah’s question dives into the wonderful world of whisker science. Robyn Grant, a self-described “whisker biologist” shares her discoveries of how whiskers work, from training a friendly seal named Moe to making slow-mo movies of super speedy “whisking.”
Here's an underwater video of a slightly different experiment, which asks how seals determine texture - the way something feels. Blindfolded again!
Robyn uses super high-speed camera and special lighting for her studies with doormice. A doormouse is an extremely nervous creature, and will freeze in place for 45 minutes if it knows it's being watched. This technology finally allows scientists to see how they use whiskers to climb.
This video shows how a doormouse touches the next platform with its whiskers before it jumps.
We also love this BBC program of Robyn showing off how she studies whiskers.
Robyn told us that whisker science is being used to develop robots. YEP, WHISKER ROBOTS.
Robotic Whiskers Could Help Robots Navigate Through Dark and Murky Environments
Seals' whiskers provide a model for the latest submarine detectors
Whisker sensors could be used to control the robots of the future
For a 10 minute extended interview with Robyn, subscribe to our Patreon podcast feed! Every episode, we publish a special bonus episode that's available for just a $1/month pledge.