Onboard acoustic recording from diving northern elephant seals. Academic Article uri icon


  • This study was the first phase in a long-term investigation of the importance of low-frequency sound in the aquatic life of northern elephant seals, Mirounga angustirostris. By attaching acoustic recording packages to the backs of six translocated juveniles, the aim was to determine the predominant frequencies and sound levels impinging on them, and whether they actively vocalize underwater on their return to their rookery at Ano Nuevo, California, from deep water in Monterey Bay. All packages contained a Sony digital audio tape recorder encased in an aluminum housing with an external hydrophone. Flow noise was minimized by potting the hydrophone in resin to the housing and orienting it posteriorly. The diving pattern of four seals was recorded with a separate time-depth recorder or a time-depth-velocity recorder. Good acoustic records were obtained from three seals. Flow noise was positively correlated with swim speed, but not so high as to mask most low-frequency sounds in the environment. Dominant frequencies of noise impinging on the seals were in the range 20-200 Hz. Transient signals recorded from the seals included snapping shrimp, cetacean vocalizations. boat noise, small explosive charges, and seal swim strokes, but no seal vocalizations were detected. During quiet intervals at the surface between dives, the acoustic record was dominated by respiration and signals that appeared to be heartbeats. This study demonstrates the feasibility of recording sounds from instruments attached to free-ranging seals, and in doing so, studying their behavioral and physiological response to fluctuations in ambient sounds.

publication date

  • October 1996