A wild grey seal was caught “clapping” on camera for the first time which resembled distinctive “shotgun-like cracks”. Earlier it was believed to be a vocal sound like many marine species calls and whistles underwater but the latest underwater footage showed a male grey seal clapping its flippers to produce the noise.
Dr Ben Burville, a researcher at Newcastle University, explained the phenomenon where the seals produce the ‘Crack!’ sound to ward off competitors and attract potential mates during the breeding season. Bull seals send out a clear signal to other seals in the area with loud high-frequency noise.
Burville said, in a statement, that he was diving off the Farne Islands when he first saw a large male clap underwater and the rival males rapidly dispersed with an instant effect. He had heard the distinctive shotgun-like ‘cracks!’ many times over the years and felt that clapping was the source but couldn’t film the seals in action for 17 years.
“The clap was incredibly loud and at first I found it hard to believe what I had seen. How could a seal make such a loud clap underwater with no air to compress between its flippers?” said the researcher.
“Then one day I had heard a couple of claps in the distance, I just hit the record button and eureka! I got it!” he added.
The study has been published in the journal Marine Mammal Science and the video, shot by Burville, is part of an international study led by Monash University, Australia. Lead author of the study Dr David Hocking said that the seals are famous for clapping in zoos and aquaria where they are often trained to clap for entertainment.
“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,” said Dr Hocking in a statement. He added that 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.