Nav: Home

Study offers detailed insight into early-life behavior of grey seal pups at sea

November 14, 2017

Male and female grey seal pups show distinct behavioural differences as they learn to forage in the early stages of their independence, according to new research which scientists believe could be crucial to the future protection of their habitat.

The pups are abandoned by their mothers when they are just three weeks old, with many of them never having ventured into the sea, let alone sourced their own food.

In a critical period lasting around 40 days after going to sea, pups have to find regular sources of food and perfect their diving and prey-catching techniques before their energy stores run out.

Using data from tracking devices, scientists showed that female pups from Welsh colonies were more likely to dive in shallower water than their male counterparts, reaching the seabed more frequently and likely having greater feeding opportunities as a result.

Although adult male grey seals are much larger than females, there is no significant difference in body size at this age and scientists think the differences in behaviour of pups may be driven by underlying physiological processes that prepare them for adult life.

The study also presented data of young seals from Scotland, showing them heading across the North Sea as far as Norway, while individuals from West Wales travelled as far as the northern coast of France. Some of the seals remained at sea without returning to land for up to two months during this early developmental phase.

The research was conducted by academics from the University of Plymouth, the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St Andrews and Abertay University, and is published in Scientific Reports.

Scientists believe the insights it provides into the initial foraging behaviour of grey seal pups around the UK could be important for the development of future protection of key habitat for these animals when they are at their most vulnerable.

Matt Carter, a PhD student within the Marine Vertebrate Research Group at the University of Plymouth, led the research. He said: "Grey seals are a top predator in UK seas, but we know very little about the early-life behaviour of young pups at sea. In the first three weeks of their lives, whilst suckling on land, they can treble in mass, but they are then abandoned and have to fend for themselves. This study fills in some of the blanks with regards to what happens when they go to sea, and will help us to understand more about the types of habitat that are important for their development."

The UK is home to around 40% of the world grey seal population and has an obligation under European Union legislation to maintain them in favourable conservation status. As part of that, critical habitats must be identified both on land and at sea where disturbance caused by human activity is minimised.

This study used data from 52 recently-weaned grey seal pups from colonies in Scotland and Wales, tagged by the Sea Mammal Research Unit. The tracking devices recorded their movements including dive duration and depth as well as location data.

The results show that in the first 40 days after leaving the colony, the pups show a fast rate of behavioural development, which includes increasing their dive performance and learning where best to source food.

Dr Clare Embling, Lecturer in Marine Ecology, said: "This initial stage is when the pups are at their most vulnerable and juvenile survival is important to sustain stable populations. Seals are facing increasing threats, such as fisheries bycatch and increasing noise from shipping and construction activities, which we are continuing to explore as part of our wider research."

Dr Kimberley Bennett, Lecturer in Biomedical Science at Abertay University, who conceived the study added: "This study adds to what we know about increasing dive performance in seal pups as they first learn how to find and catch fish. It's exciting to see such differences between regions, and in the behaviour of males and females, which might set up their feeding strategies later in life."
-end-


University of Plymouth

Related Behaviour Articles:

Parents with bipolar benefit from self-help tool
Online self-management support for parents with Bipolar Disorder leads to improvements in parenting and child behavior.
It takes 2 to tango: Beetles are equal partners in mating behavior
Beetles that copulate with the same mate as opposed to different partners will repeat the same behavior, debunking previous suggestions that one sex exerts control over the other in copulation, new research has found.
Learning makes animals intelligent
The fact that animals can use tools, have self-control and certain expectations of life can be explained with the help of a new learning model for animal behavior.
Carrots and sticks fail to change behaviour in cocaine addiction
People who are addicted to cocaine are particularly prone to developing habits that render their behaviour resistant to change, regardless of the potentially devastating consequences, suggests new research from the University of Cambridge.
York U's OUCH lab pain study links children's fear of needles to parent behaviour
The researchers observed 202 parents in the Greater Toronto Area and 130 children between four and five years of age -- these children were among the 760 who were followed at the first wave at two, four, six and/or 12-month immunizations.
Can believing you are a food addict affect your eating behavior?
Researchers from the University of Liverpool have published a paper regarding their work on how beliefs about food addiction can affect eating behavior.
The hormone cortisol has been linked to increased aggression in 10-year-old boys
Spanish researchers have studied the relationship between hormones and aggressive behavior in girls and boys between the ages of 8 and 10.
Communicating genetic disease risk has little or no impact on health related behavior
Communicating the results of DNA tests has little or no impact on behavior change, such as stopping smoking or increasing physical activity, finds a study published by The BMJ today.
Manipulative behavior could be link between EI and delinquency in young women
A Plymouth University academic has published a study showing that young women with high emotional intelligence are more likely to use manipulative behaviors, resulting in a greater engagement in delinquency.
Monitoring chicken flock behaviour could help combat leading cause of food poisoning
A new technique that monitors the movement of chickens can be used to predict which flocks are at risk of becoming infected with Campylobacter -- the most common bacterial source of food poisoning in humans in the UK.

Related Behaviour Reading:

Essentials of Organizational Behavior: An Evidence-Based Approach
by Terri A. Scandura (Author)

Managing Organizational Behavior: What Great Managers Know and Do
by Timothy Baldwin (Author), Bill Bommer (Author), Robert Rubin (Author)

Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat
by Gary Landsberg BSc DVM Dipl ACVB dip ECWABM (behaviour) (Author), Wayne Hunthausen BA DVM (Author), Lowell Ackerman DVM DACVD MBA MPA (Author)

Behavior Intervention Manual: Goals, Objectives, and Intervention Strategies
by Samm N. House (Editor)

Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Vol. 1: Adaptation and Learning
by Steven R. Lindsay (Author), Victoria Lea Voith (Foreword)

Understanding Applied Behavior Analysis, Second Edition: An Introduction to ABA for Parents, Teachers, and other Professionals
by Albert J. Kearney (Author)

The Dog's Mind: Understanding Your Dog's Behavior (Howell Reference Books)
by Bruce Fogle D.V.M. M.R.C.V.S. (Author), Anne B. Wilson (Illustrator)

Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behavior
by Michael Passer (Author), Ronald Smith (Author)

The Good News About Bad Behavior: Why Kids Are Less Disciplined Than Ever—And What to Do About It
by Katherine Reynolds Lewis (Author)

George Washington's Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation (Little Books of Wisdom)
by George Washington (Author)

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Circular
We're told if the economy is growing, and if we keep producing, that's a good thing. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers explore circular systems that regenerate and re-use what we already have. Guests include economist Kate Raworth, environmental activist Tristram Stuart, landscape architect Kate Orff, entrepreneur David Katz, and graphic designer Jessi Arrington.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#503 Postpartum Blues (Rebroadcast)
When a woman gives birth, it seems like everyone wants to know how the baby is doing. What does it weigh? Is it breathing right? Did it cry? But it turns out that, in the United States, we're not doing to great at asking how the mom, who just pushed something the size of a pot roast out of something the size of a Cheerio, is doing. This week we talk to anthropologist Kate Clancy about her postpartum experience and how it is becoming distressingly common, and we speak with Julie Wiebe about prolapse, what it is and how it's...