We share your passion for all things science. Biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, earth science and mathematics – our expertise is broad. Learn about us.
Want to turn your curiosity into a rewarding career in science? Explore our range of flexible programs and high-tech facilities.
Get the most out of your degree. From science workshops to study support, our current students page has you covered.
Our world-class researchers are committed to the advancement of scientific knowledge. Based in a thriving science precinct and with a culture of collaboration, our researchers are renowned for discovery and impact.
Find out how you can license our technologies or partner with us to improve your R&D.
Your Monash experience doesn’t end when you graduate. Whether it’s mentoring an industry project or reconnecting with old classmates, stay in touch.
1800 MONASH (1800 666 274)
You are here:
03 February 2020
Marine mammals like whales and seals usually communicate vocally using calls and whistles.
But now a Monash-University led international study has discovered that wild grey seals can also clap their flippers underwater during the breeding season, as a show of strength that warns off competitors and advertises to potential mates.
“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 the School of Biological Sciences.
“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 today 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.
“The clap was incredibly loud and at first I found it hard to believe what I had seen,” Dr Burville said.
“How could a seal make such a loud clap underwater with no air to compress between its flippers?”
“Other marine mammal species can produce similar types of percussive sound by slapping the water with their body or tail,” said Dr Alistair Evans from Monash University, who was also involved in the study.
This is the first time a seal has been seen clapping completely underwater using its front flippers.
The loud high-frequency noise produced by clapping cuts through background noise, sending out a clear signal to any other seals in the area.
“Depending on the context, the claps may help to ward off competitors and/or attract potential mates,” Dr Hocking said.
"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.”
Dr Hocking said clapping seals demonstrates just how much there still is to learn about the animals living around us.
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. “But if we do not know a behaviour exists, we cannot easily act to protect it”.
Understanding the animals around us better may just help us to protect them, and their way of life.
Media enquiries:Silvia DropulichMarketing, Media & Communications Manager, Monash ScienceT: +61 3 9902 4513 M: +61 (0) 0435138743Email: email@example.com