Watch elephant seals recognize each other’s ‘accents’

Male elephant seals roar at their rivals with gruff, throaty rhythmic sounds that are specific to each individual. Now, scientists have discovered that males of the species (Mirounga angustirostris) memorize the rhythmic pulses, or beats, of their competitors’ calls, and use this to identify specific individuals—the first time the ability to recognize the rhythm in others’ voices has been found in another mammal. The researchers had previously shown that when subordinate males hear the call of an alpha male, they flee. But they ignore the calls of unfamiliar or other subordinate males. So the scientists altered the calls of an alpha male the subordinates knew. When these males heard versions of the alpha’s roar that had slower or faster tempos or a different pitch, they stayed put, indicating they did not recognize him, the researchers report today in Current Biology. But the seals fled if the altered call was similar to his normal one. They know both the rhythmic beats as well as the tones of their rivals’ calls, the scientists conclude.