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Marine scientists recently discovered that dolphins have a secret ability to hunt the seas, the New York Times reported.
Researcher Guido Dehnhardt and his team explained that newborn dolphins have hair at the top of their jaws. But once they are weaned, these whiskers fall off and leave pits in that area.
Initially, they suggested these structures served no purpose, but a close analysis of Guiana dolphin species showed that these holes were packed with nerve endings.
The researchers said that these follicles resembled the electricity-sensing structures on sharks and found that one dolphin responded to electrical signals. This prompted them to explore whether the ability to detect electricity was also present in other cetaceans.
For a new study, the team trained two bottlenose dolphins to rest their jaws on a platform and swim away when experiencing sensory cues, such as sound or light.
The findings showed the marine mammals successfully detected electrical signals, promptly and accurately responding to these electrical signals, showing they had also learned to react to specific sensory cues.
This ability to perceive electric fields is similar to the platypus, which uses it for foraging.
The researchers believe the dolphins are also employing this sensitivity to hunt down prey – particularly that which hides on the ocean floor.
While this ability is similar to sharks, scientists noted that this electro-sensitivity is not as strong as that of the apex predators. It’s also not clear whether this ability is actually used in the wild.
Still, knowing that dolphins are able to sense electrical signals opens a whole new world of exploring their behavior in the oceans and how to better protect them.
For instance, fishing fleets have employed electromagnetic devices on their nets to keep sharks at bay. The same can also be used for dolphins, despite their lower sensitivity.