Animal Cognition

, Volume 13, Issue 5, pp 771–776 | Cite as

The memory remains: long-term vocal recognition in Australian sea lions

  • Benjamin J. Pitcher
  • Robert G. Harcourt
  • Isabelle Charrier
Short Communication


The ability to recognize other individuals plays an important role in mediating social interactions. As longitudinal studies are challenging, there is only limited evidence of long-term memory of individuals and concepts in mammals. We examined the ability of six wild Australian sea lions to discriminate between the voice of their mother and another adult female, both while they were dependent on their mother and when they were independent, 2 years after weaning. Here, we show that even after a long period of independence, juveniles retain the ability to identify their mother’s voice. Both when dependent and independent, animals showed stronger responses to maternal calls than to the calls of another female. This demonstration of recognition provides rare evidence of the long-term memory capabilities of wild mammals.


Long-term memory Individual vocal recognition Neophoca cinerea Discrimination Social communication Pinniped 



We thank H. Ahonen, K. Collins, J. Gwilliam, C. Kennedy, J. Pitcher, and all the Seal Bay staff for their assistance in the field. We thank the SeaLink Travel Group and Vivonne Bay Eco-Adventures for travel to and accommodation on Kangaroo Island. Funding for this study was provided by Macquarie University, Australia and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), France.

The research reported in this paper complies with Australian law and was carried out under South Australian Department of Environment and Heritage permit number E24934.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Benjamin J. Pitcher
    • 1
    • 2
  • Robert G. Harcourt
    • 1
  • Isabelle Charrier
    • 2
  1. 1.Marine Mammal Research Group, Graduate School of the EnvironmentMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Equipe Communications AcoustiquesCNPS, CNRS, Université Paris SudOrsayFrance

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