Research

Wild Gray Seals Clap Back

Close up of a gray seal's face.

Here’s a paper that cries out for fluid dynamical/acoustical follow-up: wild gray seals have been observed signaling underwater by clapping their forefins. As you can hear in the video, the sound is quite loud and carries well underwater. The biologists who observed the behavior postulate that it’s used by males during breeding season to ward one another off and to signal strength to nearby females.

Although many species (including humans) slap against the water surface to generate noise, we don’t know of other species producing such a loud clap entirely underwater. The clap resembles the motions used by seals for propulsion, though the results are obviously quite different. I know plenty of researchers already looking into seal propulsion — here’s your future work! (Image and video credit: B. Burville; research credit: D. Hocking et al.; via Gizmodo)

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