Mate guarding Australian sea lions are more aggressive towards familiar males

Credit: M Kuhn

The ability of pinnipeds (true seals, fur seals, sea lions and walrus) to distinguish between conspecifics may assist male reproductive strategies, particularly mate acquisition. Australian sea lion males guard up to several females during the breeding season. These groups are called harems.

Male Australian sea lion mate guarding several females. Credit: Peterdownunder

Mate guarding males will make a series of barking calls when threatened by male competitors. We assessed the ability of mate guarding Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerea) males to discriminate local from foreign males’ barks recorded from a geographically distant breeding colony.

Male barking call

Bark characteristics were significantly different between colonies, with barks produced by males from the Lewis Island breeding colony higher pitched and longer in both duration and interval duration than barks produced by males on Kangaroo Island.

Mate guarding males displayed inter‐colony discrimination of barks, with a significantly stronger response to barks from local males than to those of males from a colony 180 km away. Local males’ barks were apparently considered a greater threat than barks from unfamiliar males. 


Attard MRG, Pitcher, BJ, Charrier, H, Ahonen H and Harcourt R (2010) Vocal Discrimination in Mate Guarding Male Australian Sea Lions: Familiarity Breeds Contempt. Ethology. 16(8): 704-712. Doi: 10.1111/j.1439-0310.2010.01786.x