An aquatic mammal that uses its body to “sense” when prey is close to it, and then swims towards it and attacks it, is a great example of a marine mammal that is extremely good at detecting danger.
The video of this remarkable dolphin has been viewed almost 20 million times, and has been praised for its ability to accurately identify its prey’s location by tracking its movements.
However, a study published in the journal PLOS ONE by scientists from the University of Cambridge and University of Manchester has shown that the dolphin’s ability to locate its prey is not as precise as previously thought, and the researchers found that its ability could be affected by other factors, such as the size of its prey, the animal’s size and its location.
“When we looked at the number of targets, it’s really surprising to see that there is some variation in how accurate these animals are,” lead author of the study, Dr. Simon Kupfersdorfer, explained.
“We’re not talking about a very accurate animal like a kite or a shark, but it seems that we are dealing with an animal that has a very high degree of accuracy.”
In the study the researchers examined more than 1,300 underwater videos, including some that had been captured by the underwater camera of a small, black and white dolphin called The Dancer.
They also took a closer look at the videos recorded by a large, brown, and white fish called The Shrike.
The researchers compared the video footage of each of these three species, with a common underwater camera called a “scanner”, to determine whether the dolphins were more accurate in their ability to detect the presence of prey.
“They both were, but the Dancer was more accurate, and that is because the Dancers size and shape and the size and shapes of their prey are very different,” Dr. KupFersdorf said.
“The Shrike has an unusual shape, so the dolphin doesn’t know if the shark is nearby.
But if you look at these pictures and look at where the sharks are, you can tell the shark’s location.
So that tells you where the shark was, and you can make that determination.”
The researchers found out that the dolphins that were more successful at detecting prey were larger, had better eyesight, and had a better spatial resolution than their smaller cousins.
“You see a fish that has the biggest, fastest eye and the fastest resolution and the smallest, smallest eye and they’re the only ones that are able to see where the fish is in the water,” said Dr. Sebastian Ockenfels, lead author.
“So we see these fish, these little fish, swimming around in the ocean, but they’re not getting a clear picture of where the prey is.”
He said that the ability to make this determination might have to do with the dolphins’ size and how much prey they’re hunting.
“I think they are probably a little bit like a hunter’s game in that they’re more focused on the predator that they have at hand,” he said.
Dr. Ockfels and his colleagues also looked at other animals in the world, and they found that dolphins were not only better at tracking prey than fish, but were also more accurate than other animals.
“It turns out that dolphins are actually really good at it,” he explained.
“Their ability to track prey in the first place is just like a human’s ability, it just comes down to their body size, their ability at detecting the prey, and their ability in that sense to move towards the prey.
So the ability is just as important to them.”
So what can you do to increase your chances of spotting a killer whale or dolphin in your water?
“You should always be aware of the surroundings,” Dr Kupfen said.
“That is something that we all should be aware about in order to be a little more vigilant in terms of being on the lookout for potential threats.”
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