Applause! Grey seals clapping in new footage

Researchers believe that this behaviour is used by the seals to communicate with each other
grey seals A grey seal underwater, possibly thinking of clapping. (© Steven Melanson - Dreamstime.com)


Clapping is a very natural thing for humans to do. We clap excitedly as babies and quickly learn that one of the best ways to show support, approval, and appreciation to each other is through applause.

But we're not the only animals on Earth to clap. And as this new footage shows, grey seals clap underwater to communicate with one another.

Have a look (and listen) below. The video centers mainly on one seal whose claps are counted as "clap 1", "clap 2", etc. But other seals join in, listed as "non-visual clap 1", and so forth.

Percussive underwater signaling (clapping) in wild gray seals, Halichoerus grypus from David Hocking on Vimeo.

Not about applause

So why are these seals clapping? Did one of them just make a speech or perform a totally killer drum solo. Well,no.

According to Ben Burville, the marine biologist who shot this footage in 2017, this behaviour (usually done by male seals) is about showing strength and getting the attention of others. In this way, it reminds us of another way humans use clapping — a swift, loud one that silences chatter and calls people to order. Kind of like a judge's gavel in a court room.

Burville believes that this is a male seal's way of both advertising his strength to potential mates and letting other males know that he's the boss.

Unique behaviour

Embed from Getty Images

A grey seal swimming near the Farne Islands, where this study was performed. (Getty Embed)

Burville says that he's been observing this clapping for many years. But this was the first time that he was actually able to catch it in a recording.

Though many marine mammals use their flippers to make slapping sounds, it is usually done by smacking a single flipper on the surface of the water. Clapping them together underwater hasn't been observed outside of grey seals.

We'd like to put our hands together for grey seals and for the video work of Ben Burville. Bravo, everyone!


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