Grey seals can also use their flippers to communicate during breeding season

Washington D.C. [USA], Feb 3 (ANI): A new study by a team of Monash University researchers suggests that grey seals can communicate not just using their voice, but also by clapping with their flippers.

Ocean mammals such as whales and seals are known for using their voice to communicate using their calls and whistles. But during the breeding season, seals use their flippers too as a show of strength that warns off competitors and advertises to potential mates.

This is the first time a seal has been seen clapping completely underwater using its front flippers.

"The discovery of 'clapping seals' might not seem that surprising, after all, they're famous for clapping in zoos and aquaria," said lead study author Dr David Hocking from Monash University's School of Biological Sciences, adding "But where zoo animals are often trained to clap for our entertainment - these grey seals are doing it in the wild of their own accord."

The research, published on Sunday (local time) in the journal Marine Mammal Science, is based on video footage collected by naturalist Dr Ben Burville, a Visiting Researcher with Newcastle University, UK.

The footage - which took Dr Burville 17 years of diving to catch on film - shows a male grey seal clapping its paw-like flippers to produce a gunshot-like 'crack!' sound.

"Other marine mammal species can produce similar types of percussive sound by slapping the water with their body or tail," said Associate Professor Alistair Evans from Monash University, who was also involved in the study.

"Depending on the context, the claps may help to ward off competitors and/or attract potential mates," Dr Hocking said. He continued, "Think of a chest-beating male gorilla, for example. Like seal claps, those chest beats carry two messages: I am strong, stay away; and I am strong, my genes are good."

Clapping appears to be an important social behaviour for grey seals, so anything that disturbed it could impact breeding success and survival for this species.

"Human noise pollution is known to interfere with other forms of marine mammal communication, including whale song," Dr Hocking said.

Understanding the animals around us better may just help us to protect them, and their way of life. (ANI)