Geographical variation in temporal and spatial vocalization patterns of male harbour seals in the mating season

S M Van Parijs, G D Hastie, P M Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)


In the aquatically mating harbour seal, Phoca vitulina, oestrous females show marked differences in spatial and temporal distribution between geographical areas. This suggests that the males' display behaviour may also vary between areas. We recorded male vocalizations in two areas, the Moray Firth and Orkney, U.K. In the Moray Firth, females haul out on a few intertidal sandbars and travel along predictable routes to forage at sea. In Orkney, female haul out sites are much less influenced by tidal availability and females are much more dispersed. In the Moray Firth, males vocalized only during a short mating season, from 1 July to 12 August. Vocalizations varied significantly with the tide, the peak at high tide clearly coinciding with the period when most females were in the water. In contrast, vocalizations in Orkney were significantly related to both tidal and diel patterns. We suggest that the timing of male vocalizations reflects differences in female availability between sites. In the inner Moray Firth, vocalizations were heard throughout the females' range, whereas vocalizations in Orkney were heard only in two discrete areas. However, at both sites the density of vocalizing males was highest in narrow channels and/or along predictable female travel routes. Therefore, males clearly adapt their temporal and spatial behaviour patterns to variations in female distribution and density. These results suggest that male mating strategies in aquatically mating pinnipeds are more variable than was previously envisaged. (C) 1999 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1231-1239
Number of pages9
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1999


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