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Watch: Scientists Film Wild Seals Clapping Underwater for the First Time

By Tim Binnall

Scientists studying seals in the wild captured the first footage ever of the animals clapping their flippers together underwater. The scene reportedly serves as something of a revelation to researchers, as the creatures had previously only been seen to exhibit such behavior when they were kept in captivity and trained to 'applaud.' Amazingly, marine biologist Dr. Ben Burville spent 17 years trying to document the natural clapping of seals until finally finding success in his quest.

What stood out as particularly remarkable to the researchers was the sheer volume of the seals' flippers slapping together. "The clap was incredibly loud and at first I found it hard to believe what I had seen," Burville marveled, "how could a seal make such a loud clap underwater with no air to compress between its flippers?" The scientists behind the study noted that other aquatic animals have been known to make "similar types of percussive sound by slapping the water with their body or tail."

As for what the clapping may signify, the researchers speculated that the powerful sound is probably some form of communication used by the animal. "Depending on the context, the claps may help to ward off competitors and/or attract potential mates," explained lead scientist Dr. David Hocking, likening the behavior to gorillas pounding their chest. The discovery that seals clap in the wild adds a new dimension to concerns over how human noise pollution impacts aquatic creatures, since such a display had never been seen before until now. "If we do not know a behavior exists," Hocking explained, "we cannot easily act to protect it."

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