Watch rare footage of grey seals clapping underwater which took a researcher 17 years to capture

Grey seals have been captured clapping underwater in the wild for the very first time in the Farne Islands.

Monday, 3rd February 2020, 10:59 am
Updated Monday, 3rd February 2020, 3:37 pm

Dr Ben Burville, a researcher at Newcastle University has attempted to film a seal producing the ‘crack’ sound made underwater during the breeding season for 17 years – and he finally met his goal in 2017.

On Sunday, February 2 the video was published in Marine Mammal Science as part of an international study led by Monash University, Australia.

It was previously thought that the sound was a call like those from other marine mammals but Dr Burville’s new underwater footage shows a male grey seal repeatedly clapping its flippers to produce the noise.

Dr Ben Burville tried to capture the footage for 17 years. Photo: Ben Burville/Newcastle University

Newcastle University’s Dr Burville said: “The clap was incredibly loud and at first I found it hard to believe what I had seen. How could a seal make such a loud clap underwater with no air to compress between its flippers?

“I’ve heard the distinctive shotgun-like cracks many times over the years and I felt sure this clapping behaviour was the source, but filming the seals in action has eluded me for 17 years.

“Then one day I had heard a couple of claps in the distance, I just hit the record button and eureka! I got it!

“Diving with seals is my passion and I have spent more time underwater with grey seals than anyone in the world and yet they still amaze me every time and capturing this previously unseen behaviour just makes me realise how much there still is to learn about these incredible creatures.”

The seals were captured near the Farne Islands. Photo: Ben Burville/Newcastle University

The clapping is used by bull seals to warn off competitors and attract potential mates by sending out a clear signal to any other seals close by.

Lead author Dr David Hocking, from Monash University, said: ““Clapping appears to be an important social behaviour for grey seals, so anything that disturbed it could impact breeding success and survival for this species.

“Human noise pollution is known to interfere with other forms of marine mammal communication, including whale song. But if we do not know a behaviour exists, we cannot easily act to protect it.”

Seals have been caught clapping underwater in the wild for the first time, according to scientists. Photo: Ben Burville/Newcastle University