A team of researchers spent weeks studying an elephant seal colony in Año Nuevo State Park, California, where they were able to identify the alpha male and record his call.
The team changed the rhythm and timbre of the call, and presented two modified versions back to the seal colony, in addition to the original. When the researchers played the original alpha male call to ten “beta” males, the non-dominant seals scrambled away in fear. When they played their edited versions, however, the beta males were unafraid when the changes in the beat were more extreme.
Therefore, the researchers concluded that the beta seals understood that they were not hearing the alpha male’s call.