"But we've found that species like the harbor and gray seals use their paws to catch prey during feeding," he said.
To find out more about how these animals eat, Dr. Hocking with researchers from the University of St. Andrews and the Alaska SeaLife Center make detailed first-hand observations of how these animals use their teeth and claws.
"We found that the seals routinely cut prey into pieces small enough to swallow by stretching between their teeth and claws," said co-lead author Alistair Evans of the Monash School of Biological Sciences. 19659002] The team then compared the hand bones of modern seals with those of a 23-million-year-old fossil seal, Enaliarctos measesi, discovered in California in 1
"We've found that modern seals share many common traits with their early ancestors, including flexible finger joints and strong claws," Dr. Hocking.
"This suggests that these early fossil seals, like the modern northern seals, would have been able to use their claws to help them prey."
These behaviors could have been important as seals for the first time fed them with water and helped them eat large prey animals at a time when they did not quite fit so well for aquatic life, according to Associate Professor Evans.
"Most modern seal species, including fur seals, sea lions and the Antarctic seals, have lost or contracted their claws, possibly because their limbs became more important for swimming," Dr. Hocking, "so it's interesting that a group of seals, the northern seals, have retained this ancient anatomy."
The video clip here shows the seal in action: https: / /vimeo.com / 260181944 / Media release