, Volume 96, Issue 8, pp 901–909 | Cite as

Delayed onset of vocal recognition in Australian sea lion pups (Neophoca cinerea)

  • Benjamin J. Pitcher
  • Heidi Ahonen
  • Robert G. Harcourt
  • Isabelle Charrier
Original Paper


In pinnipeds, maternal care strategies and colony density may influence a species’ individual recognition system. We examined the onset of vocal recognition of mothers by Australian sea lion pups (Neophoca cinerea). At 2 months of age, pups responded significantly more to the calls of their own mothers than alien female calls demonstrating a finely tuned recognition system. However, newborn pups did not respond differentially to the calls of their mother from alien female calls suggesting that vocal recognition had not yet developed or is not yet expressed. These findings are in stark contrast to other otariid species where pups learn their mother’s voice before their first separation. Variance in colony density, pup movements, and natal site fidelity may have reduced selective pressures on call recognition in young sea lions, or alternatively, another sensory system may be used for recognition in the early stage of life.


Pinniped Parent-offspring communication Vocal recognition Acoustic communication Ontogeny Australian sea lion 



We warmly thank Jessica Gwilliam for her assistance in the field at Kangaroo Island and Simon Goldsworthy, Brad Page, and Andy Lowther for advice and equipment. We thank the South Australian Department of Environment and Heritage and all the staff at Seal Bay Conservation Park for access to the sea lions and their hospitality during our research. We also thank the Kangaroo Island SeaLink for transport support and Vivonne Bay Outdoor Education Centre for accommodation on Kangaroo Island. This research was carried out under the approval of the South Australian Department of Environment and Heritage (Permit Number E24934). Funding was provided by a Macquarie University Research Development grant to R. Harcourt and by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (Orsay, France). We thank Nicolas Mathevon for his comments and advice on an early draught of this manuscript and two anonymous referees for their helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Benjamin J. Pitcher
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Heidi Ahonen
    • 1
  • Robert G. Harcourt
    • 1
  • Isabelle Charrier
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Marine Mammal Research Group, Graduate School of the EnvironmentMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.CNRS, UMR 8620, NAMC, Bioacoustics TeamOrsayFrance
  3. 3.Université Paris SudOrsayFrance

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