Ice-breeding seals use vocal communication mainly during breeding season. The vocal function of aquatic mating, ice-associated ribbon seals (Histriophoca fasciata) has been unknown since they produce sounds in both breeding and non-breeding seasons. We examined the timing of their vocal presence in relation to environmental factors to infer the function of their calls in the Nemuro Strait, northern Japan, since this area is the possible southern limit of their breeding range. Vocalizations of ribbon seals were irregularly sampled from November 2012 to March 2014 in the Nemuro Strait and were compared with sea ice presence, time of day, and tidal currents. Ribbon seal downsweeps were detected in February 2013 and March 2014 only when sea ice was present along the Shiretoko Peninsula in the strait, with more detections in March leading up to the spring breeding season. Downsweep detections decreased in the middle of the day, indicating that ribbon seals were likely to be hauled out during this time. Vocalizing at night and early morning would probably reflect the increased opportunity for attracting females underwater. Our study suggests that the seal vocalizations in concurrence with sea ice presence in the Nemuro Strait could function as underwater communication for breeding.
Polar Biology – Springer Journals
Published: Sep 19, 2017
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