Acoustically advertising male harbour seals in southeast Alaska do not make biologically relevant acoustic adjustments in the presence of vessel noise

Leanna P. Matthews, Michelle E.H. Fournet, Christine Gabriele, Holger Klinck, Susan E. Parks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Aquatically breeding harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) males use underwater vocalizations during the breeding season to establish underwater territories, defend territories against intruder males, and possibly to attract females. Vessel noise overlaps in frequency with these vocalizations and could negatively impact breeding success by limiting communication space. In this study, we investigated whether harbour seals employed anti-masking strategies to maintain communication in the presence of vessel noise in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Harbour seals in this location did not sufficiently adjust source levels or acoustic parameters of vocalizations to compensate for acoustic masking. Instead, for every 1 dB increase in ambient noise, signal excess decreased by 0.84 dB, indicating a reduction in communication space when vessels passed. We suggest that harbour seals may already be acoustically advertising at or near a biologically maximal sound level and therefore lack the ability to increase call amplitude to adjust to changes in their acoustic environment. This may have significant implications for this aquatically breeding pinniped, particularly for populations in high noise regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Number of pages1
JournalBiology letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020



  • acoustic communication
  • harbour seals
  • marine mammals
  • noise
  • vocalizations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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