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Keepers and animals in the Great Southern Oceans exhibit have recently been in a research program to better understand the hearing range and sensitivity of seals in the Southern Hemisphere.

This research is possibly the first of its kind for Southern Hemisphere seal species and is hoped to help researchers, government departments and policy makers to fully assess the impacts our interactions have on these species.  Over recent years human interactions with seal have increased through ecotourism, mining and construction. Seals use vocalisations during breeding seasons, parenting and competition and the noise disturbance from such human activities to seals is largely unknown.

To assist researchers, several of Taronga Zoo’s Australian Sea-lions and New Zealand Fur Seals were trained to assist in the ear testing, which is commonly used to determine hearing in mammals, including some of our keepers on the day. While the seals were already comfortable sitting still while keepers inspected their ears, for the month before the tests seals were trained to be comfortable with a small rubber tip being inserted into the start of the ear canal to help learn about air pressure or sounds during the testing.

Seal Ear Testing

While the seals were trained and comfortable cooperating, the problem faced by keepers and the researchers was trying to get the rubber tips into the ear canal. The fur around the ear canal prevented them getting a good seal for the equipment measure the tests. On the day, there was confusion all round at the over use of the word seal! Is it the ear seal or the real seal?

The day was a success with positive tests from all of the seals. Researchers will now take what they have learnt from Taronga’s seals to those out in the field and ultimately gain a greater understanding into the affects human noise disturbance can have on in Southern Hemisphere seal colonies.

- Brad, Seal Keeper

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