It is the job of great scientists around the world to ponder the big questions:

Why is the sky blue?

Is the world flat?

Are dogs colour-blind?

And why do northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) spin in the water?

Brian Battaile, a research associate with the Marine Mammal Research Unit at the University of British Columbia, is trying to figure out the answer to the last question. This requires him to observe northern fur seal behaviour and collect data behind the scenes at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Northern fur seals are known to spin in the ocean, but not much is known about this behaviour. Are they looking for predators when they do this? Are they looking for prey? Or are they just doing it for fun? Regardless of why these animals are doing this behaviour, Brian says it has significant implications from a bioenergetics standpoint – how much energy does it take for these animals to spin, and does it compromise their ability to do anything else (like look for food)? Brian says ultimately, this is important to know because the population of northern fur seals is on the decline and there could be a link there.

As part of his research, Brian sets up cameras in various parts around the habitat so he can catch the northern fur seals turning at every angle. The idea is to compare the footage with data collected by an accelerometer attached to a harness, which a northern fur seal wears like a backpack to collect any data on the spinning movement – except on this day there is more swimming and lounging on the ledge than spinning…

An accelerometer, by the way, measures gravity and movement.

Brian has yet to see this spinning behaviour at the Aquarium, but he’s going to keep watching, recording info and capturing footage to see if he can crack this mystery.

Watch them in the video below. They are seriously ridiculous (in a good way).

Written by Karen Horak, writer-editor, content and digital experience at the Vancouver Aquarium.


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