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Acoustic behaviour of Australian fur seals


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Joy S Tripovich
added 8 research items
Australian fur seals Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus are colonial breeding animals forming dense social groups during the breeding season. During this time, males establish and defend territories through physical conflicts, stereotyped posturing and vocalisations. While vocalisations are suggested to play an important role in male recognition systems, it has received little attention. Recordings of nine adult male Australian fur seals were made during the 2000 and 2001 breeding seasons at Kanowna Island (39 degrees 10'S, 146 degrees 18' E), Bass Strait, Australia. The in-air bark vocalisations of territory-holding males were used to characterise the Bark Call and to determine whether males produce individually distinct calls, which could be used as a basis for vocal recognition. Seventeen frequency and temporal variables were measured from a total of 162 barks from nine individual males. The Bark Series was more reliably classified (83%) to the correct caller compared to the Bark Unit. This was assigned with less certainty (68%), although the classification was still relatively high. Findings from this study indicate that there is sufficient stereotypy within individual calls, and sufficient variation between them, to enable vocal recognition in male Australian fur seals.
Otariid seals (fur seals and sea lions) are colonial breeders with large numbers of females giving birth on land during a synchronous breeding period. Once pups are born, females alternate between feeding their young ashore and foraging at sea. Upon return, both mother and pup must relocate each other and it is thought to be primarily facilitated by vocal recognition. Vocalizations of thirteen female Australian fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus) were recorded during the breeding seasons of December 2000 and 2001, when pups are aged from newborns to one month. The pup attraction call was examined to determine whether females produce individually distinct calls which could be used by pups as a basis for vocal recognition. Potential for individual coding, discriminant function analysis (DFA), and classification and regression tree analysis were used to determine which call features were important in separating individuals. Using the results from all three analyses: F0, MIN F and DUR were considered important in separating individuals. In 76% of cases, the PAC was classified to the correct caller, using DFA, suggesting that there is sufficient stereotypy within individual calls, and sufficient variation between them, to enable vocal recognition by pups of this species.
Australian fur seals breed on thirteen islands located in the Bass Strait, Australia. Land access to these islands is restricted, minimising human presence but boat access is still permissible with limitations on approach distances. Thirty-two controlled noise exposure experiments were conducted on breeding Australian fur seals to determine their behavioural response to controlled in-air motor boat noise on Kanowna Island (39°10'S, 146°18'E). Our results show there were significant differences in the seals' behaviour at low (64-70 dB) versus high (75-85 dB) sound levels, with seals orientating themselves towards or physically moving away from the louder boat noise at three different sound levels. Furthermore, seals responded more aggressively with one another and were more alert when they heard louder boat noise. Australian fur seals demonstrated plasticity in their vocal responses to boat noise with calls being significantly different between the various sound intensities and barks tending to get faster as the boat noise got louder. These results suggest that Australian fur seals on Kanowna Island show behavioural disturbance to high level boat noise. Consequently, it is recommended that an appropriate level of received boat sound emissions at breeding fur seal colonies be below 74 dB and that these findings be taken into account when evaluating appropriate approach distances and speed limits for boats.