Mating system and reproductive success in eastern Pacific harbour seals


Sean A. Hayes, Fisheries Ecology Division, NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center, 110 Shaffer Road, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA. Fax: 831-420-3980; E-mail:


Harbour seals sometimes breed along inland travel corridors where females become clustered in space and time and males establish underwater acoustic display territories similar to terrestrial arenas known as resource-based leks. Under these conditions, we predicted that higher levels of polygyny would be observed than has been previously reported for this species mating in open coast environments without travel corridors. Reproductive success (RS) of 70 males was measured using 20 microsatellite DNA loci and likelihood-based paternity analysis of 136 offspring collected over 3 years. Most males were assigned either zero or one paternity with 80% confidence. The greatest number of pups assigned to one male in a season was two. Variance in RS was higher for males than females (which are biologically limited to one offspring per year) indicating low to mild polygyny. In addition, distributions of relatedness values among pups within year classes did not differ significantly from a simulated distribution with R = 0, indicating that half-siblings were uncommon. Overall, polygyny levels were low relative to terrestrial pinniped mating systems and similar to observations from a harbour seal population along an open coast. Due to large confidence intervals associated with our results, we cannot rule out the hypothesis that a travel corridor might increase the degree of polygyny skew relative to that observed in open coast environments. Habitat appeared to influence male strategies as the most successful males in open coast environments patrolled offshore, while the most successful male in this study defended a territory along the travel corridor.