NORTHERN ELEPHANT SEALS MATING — Sounds
Here’s a program from our archives.
This week, the Pacific Islands off the coast of California are alive with the bellows of mating elephant seals. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
LeBoeuf: An elephant seal is a marine mammal. It’s the largest pinniped, that is to say seal or sea lion, in the sea.
Bernie LeBoeuf is a professor of biology at the University of California in Santa Cruz. He’s tells us that elephant seals are very unique, and not just because they’re the size of a small car. They also have a distinctive series of calls.
LeBoeuf: A bull elevates his four quarters on his four flippers. He opens his mouth, during which his nose falls into his mouth, and then he emits a sound that sounds something like this.
ambience: Male Elephant Seals
It’s mating season for the seals, and these calls play an important part in the breeding process.
LeBoeuf: It means to another male that he’s being threatened, and that unless he wants to fight this male, he’d better move away.
During the mating season, the males fight for dominance, and only the winner gets to breed. That honk is kind of a call to arms. Meanwhile, the female elephant seals have just given birth to the pups they conceived last season. The island’s crowded with the new members, so the mothers have their own special calls to communicate with their pups.
ambience: Female Elephant Seals
LeBoeuf: Females make sounds that are important biologically. There’s a pup attraction call which serves to attract the pup to her. If it’s getting in trouble, it’s very important that they remain in close proximity to each other.
There is a period of dueting between a mother and its pup in which they form a social bond and they come to recognize each other. Vocalization is very important in that process.
I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.