DEVELOPMENT OF DISPLAY BEHAVIOR IN YOUNG CAPTIVE BEARDED SEALS

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Abstract

In this study of the ontogeny of vocal behavior in captive bearded seals, Erignathus barbatus, (three males and three females), only males exhibited vocal displays. The onset of display behavior coincided with sexual maturity. Males exhibited three types of dive displays associated with the performance of vocalizations. Vocalizing individuals were frequently attended by another male that maintained passive muzzle contact with the vocalizing male. These interactions were non-aggressive and might play a role in the establishment of a social hierarchy or they might allow the attendee to obtain “near-field” vocal information from the displaying male. Captive males’ vocalizations resembled those of males in the wild. However, display dives were shorter, and fewer vocalization types were documented among the captive males compared to bearded seals in the wild. The capacity of the captive males for producing well-formed, long calls with large frequency changes was also significantly less than for wild males. These capacities will likely develop further as the males grow older. Individual capacity for vocal production appears to develop gradually, showing plasticity in form development over time.

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