K̲ay sk̲’yuuwan (Sea lion whiskers)

Photo: Selbe Lynn
Photo: Selbe Lynn

Rhonda Lee McIsaac —

Pinnipeds (emuud seal, kay sea lion, and walruses), rodents, and insectivores like jiigwal awGa shrews have sk‘yuuwan whiskers. These sk‘yuuwan are a sensory organ with a muscle structure that allows them to individually move about and are like our fingers in this respect. Researchers say that each sk‘yuuwan corresponds to a certain part of the animal’s brain which tells them different things about their environment.

Some kay have as many as 38 sk‘yuuwan on each side of their face which will grow up to eight inches in length. The sk‘yuuwan are extremely sensitive and have more nerve fibers per strand than any other in the animal kingdom. With their sk‘yuuwan , kay can sense changes in water flow and track fish swimming up to 590 ft (180 metres) away.

These beautiful appendages are also used on regalia such as a Hereditary Leaders’ headdress, as well as masks and other objects.

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