Singing Seals

Arf! Arf! Is that seal trying to tell me something?!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

That barking noise seals make is just the BEGINNING of their communication skills! Harbor seals can also imitate sounds, like parrots! 

And Laura Borda and her team from Max Planck Institute in the Netherlands are listening.

They wondered if seal pups can adapt their voices to noises in the environment. So they recorded ambient noises from the nearby ocean. Then they played the noise back to eight seal pups at different volumes. 

Results? These pups lowered the pitch of their calls when they heard loud noises. One pup also produced louder calls in response to loud noises, in order to be more noticeable. This is typical for human speech, but it’s rare for other mammals. 

Seal pups are better at vocal learning than we thought! Scientists believe these findings can help us better understand how we humans developed speech and language.

Balancing a ball on their nose, though? They’ve got us beat there! 

Reference: Torres Borda, L., Jadoul, Y., Rasilo, H., Salazar Casals, A., & Ravignani, A. (2021). Vocal plasticity in harbour seal pups. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 376(1840), 20200456.