Intrinsic and extrinsic drivers of activity budgets in sympatric grey and harbour seals

Deborah Jill Fraser Russell, Brett Thomas McClintock, Jason Matthiopoulos, Paul Thompson, David Thompson, Philip Steven Hammond, Esther Lane Jones, Monique MacKenzie, Simon Moss, Bernie J McConnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)
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Investigation of activity budgets in relation to seasonal, intrinsic (age, sex) and extrinsic (time of day, spatial) covariates enables an understanding of how such covariates shape behavioural strategies. However, conducting such investigations in the wild is challenging, because of the required large sample size of individuals across the annual cycle, and difficulties in categorising behavioural states and analysing the resulting individual-referenced and serially correlated data. In this study, from telemetry tags deployed on 63 grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) and 126 harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) we used behavioural data, and movement data within a Bayesian state-space model (SSM), to define population-level activity budgets around Britain. Using generalised estimating equations (GEEs) we then examined how time spent in four states (resting on land (hauled out), resting at sea, foraging and travelling) was influenced by seasonal, intrinsic and extrinsic covariates. We present and discuss the following key findings. (1) We found no evidence that regional variation in foraging effort was linked to regional population trajectories in harbour seals. (2) Grey seals demonstrated sex-specific seasonal differences in their activity budgets, independent from those related to reproductive costs. (3) In these sympatric species there was evidence of temporal separation in time hauled out, but not in time foraging. (4) In both species, time spent resting at sea was separated into inshore (associated with tidal haul out availability) and offshore areas. Time spent resting at sea and on land was interchangeable to some extent, suggesting a degree of overlap in their functionality. This may result in a relaxation of the constraints associated with a central place foraging strategy. More generally, we demonstrate how a large dataset, incorporating differing tag parameters, can be analysed to define activity budgets and subsequently address important ecological questions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1462-1472
Issue number11
Early online date28 Feb 2015
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2015


  • Area-restricted search
  • Bayesian
  • Energetic requirements
  • Energy budget
  • Hidden process models
  • Pinnipeds
  • Time budget


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