Individual vocal recognition between mothers and pups has been widely observed in pinnipeds, especially otariids. Otariids are colonial breeders; mothers suckle only their own offspring, aggressively attacking nonrelated young. Mothers alternate foraging trips with periods ashore, and at each return to the colony, mothers and pups must find each other among all the individuals of the colony. In the Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerea), the need for a finely tuned mechanism of recognition is exacerbated by their habit of changing the nursing location over the course of lactation. We investigated potential acoustic parameters used in mother–pup recognition in Australian sea lions. We measured 11 acoustic parameters on calls of mothers and pups and found that several parameters (fundamental frequency, energy spectrum, amplitude, and frequency modulation) were highly individually specific. Discriminant analysis correctly assigned calls to individual mothers or pups with an average classification rate of 65% and 77%, respectively. Spectral features and frequency modulation were the most important features distinguishing individuals. Lastly, principal component analysis showed that calls of pups and mothers were easily distinguishable using energy spectrum and frequency modulation. Comparison with other pinniped species suggests that individual vocal identity is likely to be selected through ecological constraints such as density of the colony, degree of polygyny, likelihood of allosuckling or fostering, and degree of maternal absence during lactation.
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