The silenced dialects of elephant seals

May 29, 2019, 8:38 AM EDT
(Source: _quintin_/flickr)
(Source: _quintin_/flickr)

The bitter, brutal clashes between the male members of northern elephant seals are preceded by signature vocal calls by each one of them. These distinct dialects, documented for the first time in a non-human mammal in the late 1960s, could be the difference between life and death, as they provide a cue to the potential rivals if they locked horns in the past and to make a prudent decision to go ahead or pull back from the confrontation.

Unfortunately, about 50 years after their discovery, these dialects have vanished, and the researchers, intrigued by this loss, may have found the factor at play, notes The Atlantic.

The researchers deduced that the peculiar vocal behavior of the elephant seals along the coasts of Mexico and California was a result of their isolation over time, during the 1960s when their population in the region shrunk to only 20 members. As northern elephant seals staged a recovery with the help of conservation drives and recolonized their former breeding grounds, the dialects vanished.

 

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