Let's Dance!

Male Elephant Seal Calling


I come from a very musical family, and I love nature's harmonies. This corner of the garden is dedicated to sharing some of the sounds (and occasionally dances) that I have collected over the years.

Today's featured opus features Mirounga music, which was recorded at Ano Nueovo State Park in California. It begins with a spectacular male elephant seal solo, set against a symphony of tree frogs.

Harems Are Noisy!

Elephant Seal Harem

Elephant seals spend most of their lives swimming solo in the ocean, but every winter females congregate on land in groups called harems. Here, they give birth to their pups and debate pinniped philosophy wit the rest of the ladies of the harem. From the sound of it, they hold very strong opinions!

Listen to an elephant seal harem!

Are You My Mother?

Female Elephant Seal Calling Her Pup Female Elephant Seal Calling Her Pup

Immediately after birth, Mom and pup call back and forth to each other. This is one way they can recognize each other in the crowded harem. Mom does not have enough milk to support more than one pup, so she doesn't want to take in strays. Until their pups are weaned, experienced Moms will defend them drive other hungry pups away.

Listen to a Mom and pup calling to each other!

Love Triangles – Or Should I Call them Squares, Pentads or Octagons?

Female Elephant Seal Calling Her Pup

Of course, whenever there's a large congregation of nubile females, the males can't be far behind. Each harem is guarded by a large "alpha" male who thinks he has sole mating privileges with all the females. But it doesn't always work that way. There are plenty of eager wouldbe Dads waiting in the wings. Females cry out during mating attempts, and these protests MAY alert the alpha bull to intruders. Frankly, it rarely looks like she's having much fun!

Compare this sound of a protesting female to the call of a female vocalizing to her pup.

A Great Solo Can Intimidate Competition

Elephant Seal Calling

An elephant seal bull may threaten other males with a low, repetitive challenge. These distinctive calls echo for miles and provide much of the drama of Mirounga music.

Listen to an elephant seal bull challenge.

But Sometimes They Just Have to Fight!

Two Male Elephant Seals Fighting

Elephant seal fights can be memorable, bloody battles lasting over half an hour. Usually, however, they are brief skirmishes. The bulls fast throughout the entire breeding season, so empty bellies encourage restraint. A bull who fritters away all his time and energy fighting other males, won't have much time for the ladies.

Listen to an elephant seal fight!!!

Take Care of That Voice!

Male Elephant Seal with Harem

Vocalization and other signs of dominance help bulls limit their fighting. During the 1996 breeding season at Año Nuevo State Park, one alpha bull (shown in the picture on the right) was handicapped by a strange, muted challenge call. Though he was a strong, large bull he had to fight more often than he would have with a powerful call. In mid season, he was driven away from his prime spot to a smaller harem. If you listen closely to the following recording you can BARELY hear his low, rhythmic call above the sound of the surf.