Some seal species still hunt like land predators, study reports

Seals use their paws in the same way as land predators.
By Joseph Scalise | Feb 04, 2019
Certain seal species have claws that help them grasp and tear at prey in the same way land predators do, according to a new study published in theRoyal Society Open Science.

Ancestors of so-called true seals moved from hunting on land to hunting in the ocean. While the traits needed for each environment are different, the mammals never lost their clawed paws. Harbor and harp seals both have claws, and scientists now believe the reason is to catch larger meals while hunting under water.


In the research, a team of scientists from Monash University spent 670 hours observing wild harbor and gray seals off the coast of Scotland. Then, they tested three captive seals and took a close-up look at their eating behaviors, according toThe Conversation.


They found that, while some captive seals swallowed their prey whole, both wild and captive mammals generally used their claws to hold prey and rip of smaller bits. That is the exactly how land predators like bears use their own paws.Even if the seals caught prey underwater, they would often rip it apart at the surface to avoid inhaling water.

Northern true seals, unlike fur seals and sea lions, have flexible joints that allow them to curl their claws to grasp prey. Such flexible joints also existed in ancient pinniped species.

While rigid flippers have helped some species better move through the water, they do not help grasp prey. That setback could explain why fur seals and sea lions go after smaller fish that they can easily swallow whole,Science Newsreports.

These observations build on other findings that revealed true seals using their limbs in terrestrial ways, such as digging out lairs or uncovering buried fish from the ocean floor.

Though more research needs to be done on this topic before any concrete conclusions can be reached, the team believes the new research gives more insight into the evolution of the aquatic mammals.


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