Individual and geographical variation in display behaviour of male harbour seals in Scotland

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Studying variations in behaviour at the individual or population level enables insight into the reproductive strategies within a species. We examined individual and geographical variation in the vocal and dive behaviour of male harbour seals, Phoca vitulina, which is associated with aquatic mating. This display behaviour was recorded in the Moray Firth, Scotland, from July 1994 to 1997, and in Orkney, Scotland, during July 1998. One vocalization type was apparent in the Moray Firth and two in Orkney. Time parameters (total and pulse duration) varied between males in the population in the Moray Firth. We used both frequency and time parameters in a discriminant analysis, which showed that 73.2% of individual male vocalizations could be correctly classified; 94.6% of male vocalizations from the Moray Firth and Orkney could be correctly classified according to their geographical areas. Therefore, vocal variation was greater between geographical areas than between individuals. No individual variation was apparent between dive and surface interval durations. However, individuals varied significantly in the percentage of short surface intervals. Male harbour seals showed substantial variability in the parameters affecting their vocal and dive behaviour during the mating season. We suggest that these variations may be indicative of adaptations to varying environmental challenges influencing the reproductive strategies of discrete populations. (C) 2000 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)559-568
Number of pages10
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2000


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