Whiskers could unlock mystery

Whiskers could unlock mystery

Curtin University biologists are testing a method of tracking and identifying Australian sea lions by their whiskers.

Senior marine science and technology research fellow Chandra Salgado Kent said little had been done on tracking individuals in the endangered species over long periods in WA as they lacked unique spots or stripes.

‘Scars are often obscured by fur and change over time with moults, and fur colour also changes when maturing,’ Dr Salgado Kent said.

‘Currently, to study them at an individual level over multiple breeding cycles, sea lions have to be marked, which means they would need to be captured and sedated to apply a mark such as a microchip.’

Research associate Sylvia Osterrieder said the Whisker Patrol project team wanted to discover if the animals possessed unique natural markings from their whisker patterns.

‘To test this method on a large scale, we need plenty of photos of sea lions and the community to pull out their cameras when they see one in the wild and send us their snaps via the website,’ Ms Osterrieder said. ‘When helping us, remember to maintain a distance of 10 metres from sea lions as listed in Department of Parks and Wildlife guidelines ” while they are cute and cuddly, they are wild animals.’

Joondalup resident Will Ross had a close encounter with the marine mammal while kayaking and snorkelling off the northern suburbs coastline in February. Mr Ross said while he was in the water looking at fish, an inquisitive sea lion appeared and lingered long enough for a picture.

Upload photos of sea lions at www.whiskerpatrol.org.