Jul 21, 2017

Elephant seals recognize signature calls

Mathevon et al. 2017

A new study found male northern elephant seals produce signature rhythmic calls to communicate with their rivals — and navigate their social network.

Why it matters: These are the only non-human mammals known to use rhythm, and the evolution of this type of communication in other species helps to better understand the origins of music among humans.

How they use it: Nicolas Mathevon, one of the study's authors from Université de Lyon/Saint-Etienne in France, said elephant seals "fight [for females] very violently, even to the point of killing one another." Recognizing competitors by the rhythm in their voice allows them to "choose the right strategy" when confronting a rival during mating.

Yes, but... seals most likely use "a multitude of factors to identify each other in a group," not just their calls, according to Caroline Casey, a PhD candidate at the University of California Stanford who participated in the study.

What comes next: Casey said the team is "in the process of tracking young elephant seals throughout their vocal development to see how these individual signatures emerge over time."

Go deeper