Decoding the language of the Northern Elephant Seal
The northern elephant seal was thought to be extinct a century ago, after decades of being hunted for their oil-rich blubber. Less than a dozen surviving seals from a remote island in Mexico saved the species from extinction. With international conservation efforts and the work of scientists, the elephant seal population has recovered to 175,000 individuals scattered over much of their historical range.
Over 40 years ago, UCSC researcher Burney Le Boeuf and his colleagues showed that there were notable vocal dialects present among males from distant breeding colonies off the coasts of California and Mexico. These geographical differences in vocalizations seemed to reflect emigration of animals as the population recovered and expanded from their last isolated outpost.
Now, with your help, UCSC scientists are planning an expedition to revisit one of the original breeding colonies on Isla de Guadalupe in Mexico, in order to determine whether these dialects still exist and if the language of elephant seals has changed over the course of the species' recovery.
Our goal of $5,000 will allow a small research team from the Cognition and Sensory Systems Laboratory to travel to Isla de Guadalupe for 15 days in February 2014 with the equipment needed to collect acoustic data from these intriguing marine mammals. This effort will provide insight into the role of communication in the life of an elephant seal, and will reveal how acoustic behavior can change in a recovering species with limited genetic variation.
Go to http://pinnipedlab.ucsc.edu/ to learn more about our research. Thank you for your support of this project to further our understanding of the language and communications of the northern elephant seal.
Note : Should we fall short of our funding goal, your contribution will be used for similar research at sites located along the California coast.