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California sea lions employ task-specific strategies for active touch sensing

Milne, Alyx O, Orton, Llwyd ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8578-2296, Black, Charlotte H, Jones, Gary C, Sullivan, Matthew and Grant, Robyn A (2021) California sea lions employ task-specific strategies for active touch sensing. Journal of Experimental Biology, 224 (21). jeb243085-jeb243085. ISSN 0022-0949

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Abstract

Active sensing is the process of moving sensors to extract task-specific information. Whisker touch is often referred to as an active sensory system since whiskers are moved with purposeful control. Even though whisker movements are found in many species, it is unknown if any animal can make task-specific movements with their whiskers. California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) make large, purposeful whisker movements and are capable of performing many whisker-related discrimination tasks. Therefore, California sea lions are an ideal species to explore the active nature of whisker touch sensing. Here, we show that California sea lions can make task-specific whisker movements. California sea lions move their whiskers with large amplitudes around object edges to judge size, make smaller, lateral stroking movements to judge texture and make very small whisker movements during a visual task. These findings, combined with the ease of training mammals and measuring whisker movements, makes whiskers an ideal system for studying mammalian perception, cognition and motor control.

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