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Mother-Offspring Separation and Acoustic Stereotypy: a Comparison of Call Morphology in Two Species of Pinnipeds

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I have compared structural variation of the primary vocalizations used between mother-offspring pairs in two species of pinnipeds that differ fundamentally in their breeding behaviour: northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) mothers and offspring normally are together throughout the nursing period; northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus) females regularly separate from their offspring while nursing. Two predictions were tested: (1) these vocalizations should be individually-distinct (stereotyped) in females and pups of both species if they serve to function for recognition, and (2) because individuality should be more pronounced in a species where separations and reunions are common, the vocalizations used between northern fur seal mother-offspring pairs should be more individually-stereotyped than those of the northern elephant seal. Principal components analyses revealed structural differences between the calls of females and pups in both species. Analysis of variance showed the calls of individual seals to be acoustically distinct in all cases. The calls used between mother-offspring pairs of northern fur seals were more stereotyped than those of northern elephant seals. These calls had less within-individual variation, greater among-individual variation and were more often correctly predicted in discriminant analyses. The results indicate that selective pressure to develop vocal recognition exists in both species but is greater in the northern fur seal.

Affiliations: 1: (Department of Biology, University of Victoria, Victoria, B.C., Canada

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