Polar Biology

, Volume 40, Issue 10, pp 2133–2136 | Cite as

Through-ice communication by Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii) is possible

  • John M. TerhuneEmail author
Short Note


Based on prior knowledge of the in-air hearing thresholds of seals at the time, Terhune (Polar Biol 27:810–812, 2004) suggested that Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii) likely could not hear underwater calls, while they were on the ice. However, recent data on phocid hearing thresholds in the air reveal that seals have much lower detection thresholds than previously thought. A re-analysis of the situation using the lower hearing threshold data finds that many of the Weddell seal underwater calls, especially those with high-frequency components, will be audible to seals resting on the ice. Territorial males vocally defending territories under the ice during the breeding season may also be communicating with females on the ice directly above them. This communication may facilitate later mating success of those males.


Weddell seals Vocal communication Breeding behaviour Leptonychotes weddellii 



The Australian Antarctic Division and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada provided the initial logistical and financial support. The Davis expeditioners of 1997, H.R. Burton and J.M. Sills are thanked for their assistance.


  1. Barnes-Keoghan I (2016) Antarctic climate data collected by Australian Agencies Australian Antarctic Data Centre - CAASM Metadata ( Accessed 28 Dec 2016
  2. Cleator HJ, Stirling I, Smith TG (1989) Underwater vocalizations of the bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus). Can J Zool 67:1900–1910CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Kaufman GW, Siniff DB, Reichle R (1975) Colony behaviour of Weddell seals, Leptonychotes weddelli, at Hutton Cliffs, Antarctica. Rapp P-v. Réun Cons int Explor Mer 169:228–246Google Scholar
  4. Kooyman GL (1981) Weddell seal: consummate diver. Cambridge University Press, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Møhl B (1968) Auditory sensitivity of the common seal in air and water. J Aud Res 8:27–38Google Scholar
  6. Oetelaar ML, Terhune JM, Burton HR (2003) Can the sex of a Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) be identified by its surface call? Aquat Mammal 29:261–267CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Reichmuth C, Holt MM, Mulsow J, Sills JM, Southall BL (2013) Comparative assessment of amphibious hearing in pinnipeds. J Comp Physiol A 199:491–507. doi: 10.1007/s00359-013-0813y CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Rogers TL (2014) Source levels of the underwater calls of a male leopard seal (L). J Acoust Soc Am 136:1495–1498. doi: 10.1121/1.4895685 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Sills JM, Southall BL, Reichmuth C (2014) Amphibious hearing in spotted seals (Phoca larga): underwater audiograms, aerial audiograms and critical ratio measurements. J Exp Biol 217:726–734. doi: 10.1242/jeb.097469 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Sills JM, Southall BL, Reichmuth C (2015) Amphibious hearing in ringed seals (Pusa hispida): underwater audiograms, aerial audiograms and critical ratio measurements. J Exp Biol 218:2250–2259. doi: 10.1242/jeb.120972 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Southall BL, Bowles AE, Ellison WT, Finneran JJ, Gentry RL, Greene Jr CR, Kastak D, Ketten DR, Miller JH, Nachtigall PE, Richardson WJ, Thomas JA, Tyack PL (2007) Marine mammal noise exposure criteria: initial scientific recommendations. Aquat Mamm 33:1–521Google Scholar
  12. Terhune JM (1991) Masked and unmasked pure tone detection thresholds of a harbour seal listening in air. Can J Zool 69:2059–2066CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Terhune JM (2004) Through-ice communication by Weddell seals may not be practicable. Polar Biol 27:810–812. doi: 10.1007/s00300-004-0659-4 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Terhune JM, Dell’Apa A (2006) Stereotyped calling patterns of a male Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii). Aquat Mamm 32:175–181 doi: 10.1578/AM.32.2.2006.175 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Terhune JM, Ronald K (1971) The harp seal, Pagophilus groenlandicus (Erxleben, 1777). X. The air audiogram. Can J Zool 49:385–390CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Terhune JM, Turnbull S (1995) Variation in the psychometric functions and hearing thresholds of a harbour seal., In: RA Kastelein, JA Thomas and PE Nachtigall (eds), Sensory systems of aquatic mammals. De Spil Publishers, Woerden, The Netherlands pp 81–93Google Scholar
  17. Thomas JA, Kuechle VB (1982) Quantitative analysis of Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddelli) underwater vocalizations at McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. J Acoust Soc Am 72:1730–1738CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Thomas JA, Ferm LM, Kuechle VB (1988) Patterns of underwater calls from Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii) during the breeding season at McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Antarct J 23:146–148Google Scholar
  19. Watkins WA, Ray GC (1977) Underwater sounds from ribbon seal, Phoca (Histriophoca) fasciata. Fish Bull 75:450–453Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of New BrunswickSaint JohnCanada

Personalised recommendations