A harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) can learn geometrical relationships between landmarks
Journal article, Peer reviewed
MetadataShow full item record
Marine mammals travel the world's oceans. Some species regularly return to specific places to breathe, haul-out or breed. However, the mechanisms they use to return are unknown. Theoretically, landmarks could mediate the localisation of these places. Occasionally, it might be beneficial or even required to localise places using geometrical information provided by landmarks such as to apply a ‘middle rule’. Here, we trained a harbour seal to find its goal in the middle of numerous vertically and horizontally orientated two-landmark arrays. During testing, the seal was confronted with unfamiliar two-landmark arrays. After having successfully learnt to respond to the midpoint of multiple two-landmark arrays, the seal directly and consistently followed a ‘middle rule’ during testing. It chose the midpoint of the two-landmark arrays with high precision. Harbour seals with the ability to localise goals based on geometrical information would be able to home in on places even from unknown positions relative to goal-defining features. Altogether, the results obtained with our harbour seal individual in the present and a previous study, examining the basis of landmark orientation, provide evidence that this seal can use landmark information very flexibly. Depending on context, this flexibility is adaptive to an environment in which the information content can vary over time.