The role of vocal learning in call acquisition of wild grey seal pups

Amanda Stansbury, Vincent M. Janik*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Pinnipeds have been identified as one of the best available models for the study of vocal learning. Experimental evidence for their learning skills is demonstrated with advanced copying skills, particularly in formant structure when copying human speech sounds and melodies. By contrast, almost no data are available on how learning skills are used in their own communication systems. We investigated the impact of playing modified seal sounds in a breeding colony of grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) to study how acoustic input influenced vocal development of eight pups. Sequences of two or three seal pup calls were edited so that the average peak frequency between calls in a sequence changed up or down. We found that seals copied the specific stimuli played to them and that copies became more accurate over time. The differential response of different groups showed that vocal production learning was used to achieve conformity, suggesting that geographical variation in seal calls can be caused by horizontal cultural transmission. While learning of pup calls appears to have few benefits, we suggest that it also affects the development of the adult repertoire, which may facilitate social interactions such as mate choice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20200251
Number of pages6
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. B, Biological Sciences
Issue number1836
Early online date6 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - 25 Oct 2021


  • Playbacks
  • Grey seals
  • Production learning
  • Usage leaning
  • Halichoerus grypus
  • Vocal learning


Dive into the research topics of 'The role of vocal learning in call acquisition of wild grey seal pups'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this