Grey seals use anthropogenic signals from acoustic tags to locate fish: evidence from a simulated foraging task

Amanda Stansbury, Thomas Götz, Volker Bernt Deecke, Vincent M. Janik*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)


Anthropogenic noise can have negative effects on animal behaviour and physiology. However, noise is often introduced systematically and potentially provides information for navigation or prey detection. Here, we show that grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) learn to use sounds from acoustic fish tags as an indicator of food location. In 20 randomized trials each, 10 grey seals individually explored 20 foraging boxes, with one box containing a tagged fish, one containing an untagged fish and all other boxes being empty. The tagged box was found after significantly fewer non-tag box visits across trials, and seals revisited boxes containing the tag more often than any other box. The time and number of boxes needed to find both fish decreased significantly throughout consecutive trials. Two additional controls were conducted to investigate the role of the acoustic signal: (i) tags were placed in one box, with no fish present in any boxes and (ii) additional pieces of fish, inaccessible to the seal, were placed in the previously empty 18 boxes, making possible alternative chemosensory cues less reliable. During these controls, the acoustically tagged box was generally found significantly faster than the control box. Our results show that animals learn to use information provided by anthropogenic signals to enhance foraging success.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20141595
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1798
Early online date19 Nov 2014
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jan 2015


  • Anthropogenic noise
  • Acoustic fish tags
  • Dinner bell effect
  • Chemosensory cues
  • Pinnipeds


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