Visual timing abilities of a harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) and a South African fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus) for sub- and supra-second time intervals

Heinrich, T., Ravignani, A., & Hanke, F. H. (2020). Visual timing abilities of a harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) and a South African fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus) for sub- and supra-second time intervals. Animal Cognition. Advance online publication. doi:10.1007/s10071-020-01390-3.
Timing is an essential parameter influencing many behaviours. A previous study demonstrated a high sensitivity of a phocid, the harbour seal (Phoca vitulina), in discriminating time intervals. In the present study, we compared the harbour seal’s timing abilities with the timing abilities of an otariid, the South African fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus). This comparison seemed essential as phocids and otariids differ in many respects and might, thus, also differ regarding their timing abilities. We determined time difference thresholds for sub- and suprasecond time intervals marked by a white circle on a black background displayed for a specific time interval on a monitor using a staircase method. Contrary to our expectation, the timing abilities of the fur seal and the harbour seal were comparable. Over a broad range of time intervals, 0.8–7 s in the fur seal and 0.8–30 s in the harbour seal, the difference thresholds followed Weber’s law. In this range, both animals could discriminate time intervals differing only by 12 % and 14 % on average. Timing might, thus be a fundamental cue for pinnipeds in general to be used in various contexts, thereby complementing information provided by classical sensory systems. Future studies will help to clarify if timing is indeed involved in foraging decisions or the estimation of travel speed or distance.
Supplementary material
supplementary material
Publication type
Journal article
Publication date
2020

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