Harbour seals use rhythmic percussive signalling in interaction and display

Kocsis, K., Düngen, D., Jadoul, Y., & Ravignani, A. (in press). Harbour seals use rhythmic percussive signalling in interaction and display. Animal Behaviour. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2023.09.014.
Multimodal rhythmic signalling abounds across animal taxa. Studying its mechanisms and functions can highlight adaptive components in highly complex rhythmic behaviours, like dance and music. Pinnipeds, such as the harbour seal, Phoca vitulina, are excellent comparative models to assess rhythmic capacities. Harbour seals engage in rhythmic percussive behaviours which, until now, have not been described in detail. In our study, eight zoo-housed harbour seals (two pups, two juveniles and four adults) were passively monitored by audio and video during their pupping/breeding season. All juvenile and adult animals performed percussive signalling with their fore flippers in agonistic conditions, both on land and in water. Flipper slap sequences produced on the ground or on the seals' bodies were often highly regular in their interval duration, that is, were quasi-isochronous, at a 200–600 beats/min pace. Three animals also showed significant lateralization in slapping. In contrast to slapping on land, display slapping in water, performed only by adult males, showed slower tempo by one order of magnitude, and a rather motivic temporal structure. Our work highlights that percussive communication is a significant part of harbour seals' behavioural repertoire. We hypothesize that its forms of rhythm production may reflect adaptive functions such as regulating internal states and advertising individual traits.
Publication type
Journal article

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