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Mortality in Grey seal pups: incidence and causes

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Abstract

Pup production and mortality of beach breeding Grey seals was studied at two contrasting types of rookery, the cliff-bound island of Ramsey, Dyfed, and the low, grassy island of Auskerry, Orkney. Thirty-five per cent of pups died on Ramsey compared with 14 % on Auskerry. Almost half of the Ramsey mortality was accounted for by animals being lost from the beaches so that they were not available for analysis. The main proximate causes of death revealed by post-mortem examination were starvation and infections. The other conditions which accounted for a small proportion of deaths were drowning, trauma, non-viability, stillbirths, atelectasis, dystokia and heart abnormality. Certain pathogens associated with disease were common to both sites, while others were specific to Ramsey or Auskerry.

The most important ultimate cause of pup deaths appeared to be failure of the mother/pup bond. The differences in levels of mortality between the sites is thought to be due to differences in the topography of the beaches. Pup survival on the narrow cliff-bound beaches, or in caves, on Ramsey was reduced either directly through pups being washed off, or indirectly by overcrowding of animals at high tide.

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