Bioacoustics of southern elephant seals. II. Individual and geographical variation in male aggressive vocalisations

S. Sanvito & F. Galimberti (2000). Bioacoustics of southern elephant seals. II. Individual and geographical variation in male aggressive vocalisations. Bioacoustics, Volume 10 (4): 287 -307

In traditional studies of animal communication, individual variability was sometimes considered less relevant than species specific aspects, mostly because the goal was the classifications of sounds in repertories. However, individual variability seems to have a significant role in signal function and evolution. In this paper, we analyse individual variation in the structure of aggressive vocalisations of male southern elephant seals and we compare sounds from our main study population, Sea Lion Island (Falkland Islands), with sounds recorded in the nearby population of the Valdés Peninsula (Patagonia, Argentina).       We firstly analysed the repeatability of acoustic parameters at vocalization and male level. Repeatability of bouts of the same vocalization was extremely high and this confirmed that vocalization is the fundamental level of organization of male acoustic communication in this species. Also repeatability of vocalisations of individual males was very high and hence sounds may effectively convey information about identity of the individual who emits the sound.

Male aggressive vocalisations were categorized into a small number of types and each male emitted always the same type of vocalization. We compared the typology of sounds emitted by Sea Lion Island males with vocalisations by Valdés Peninsula males and we found striking differences. The two populations shared none of the sound types and, although similar in fundamental acoustics, sounds from the two populations had a different macrostructure. We conclude that these two populations show dialects in male acoustic communication, although the scarcity of recordings from other populations limits the scope of this conclusion.


Southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonina, vocalisations, bioacoustics, individual variation, geographic variation, dialects, Falkland Islands, Valdés Peninsula.