Philopatry, site fidelity and local kin associations within grey seal breeding colonies

P P Pomeroy, S D Twiss, P Redman

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Colonially breeding animals such as grey seals typically have a discrete number of breeding sites. The extent to which offspring are philopatric (return to breed at their natal site) and the prevalence of philopatry by sex of pup has fundamental consequences for the social and genetic structure within and between each colony.

Grey seals born and marked by tagging and cohort brands at colonies on North Rona, Outer Hebrides since 1960 and at the Isle of May, Firth of Forth since 1981 have shown philopatry. Overall re-sight rates of 1620 pups tagged at North Rona and 1667 pups at the Isle of May ranged from 0 to 17%. Although most evidence of philopatry relates to females, males at each colony displayed philopatry. In addition, females born at N. Rona pupped closer to their natal sites than would be expected by chance (p =0.005), providing evidence of fine scale natal site fidelity. Females born at the Isle of May did not show the same degree of fine scale natal site fidelity, but there was considerable individual variation. The spatial scale of philopatry shown by seals differed according to the local area within each island. Fidelity of known adult females to pupping sites at both colonies was high. In addition, we found an instance of mother and daughter pupping together away from the daughter's natal site.

These data: (i) provide evidence of philopatry in both sexes at each site; (ii) describe occurrences of fine scale philopatry at both sites; (iii) show that mothers and offspring occupied the same areas on the colony, suggesting the possibility of highly related groups within colonies, which would provide conditions for kin-specific altruistic behaviours; (iv) suggest the possibility of individual or kin recognition, even though contact between mothers and offspring has been thought to cease after the 18 d lactation period.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)899-919
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2000


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