Our seals recognize their trainers and each other, but can they recognize themselves?
That’s what Maritime Aquarium intern Alexis Hudson, a senior Marine Biology major at the University of New Haven, wants to find out.
For six weeks, she’ll study six of The Maritime Aquarium’s harbor seals (Polly, Ariel, Tillie, Leila, Rasal, and Orange) by submerging a mirror in the seal pool. By temporarily marking the seals, she may be able to determine whether they can recognize themselves in the mirror based on their behaviors.
If the seals react to the marking, such as examining it in the mirror, they could be showing signs of self-recognition.
The mirror test was developed by Gordon Gallup Jr. in 1970 to gauge if animals exhibit self-awareness or have the ability to recognize their reflection in a mirror.
Humans typically begin to recognize their own reflection between 18-24 months. Other animals known to pass the mirror test include all great apes (bonobos, chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas), bottlenose dolphins, killer whales, elephants and European magpies.
Because Susie has impaired vision due to cataracts, she is not part of the test group. (See how we treated another one of our seals for cataracts in a previous post!) However, Alexis is noting the behaviors she presents upon introducing something new in the seal pool.
But other seals in the test group have cataracts, too. Since they can see, at least partially, she doesn’t believe their cataracts will affect the study.
“I am taking into account the cataracts and such but we really don’t think that it will have a huge impact on the ability to see their reflection,” Alexis said.
We’ll keep you updated on Alexis’ findings! At the end of her research, we’ll follow up with the results of her study.
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