Effects of maternal age and condition on parturition and the perinatal period of Antarctic fur seals

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Abstract

The effect of maternal age and condition on the date of parturition and the duration of the perinatal period of Antarctic fur seals at Bird Island, South Georgia, were investigated over three consecutive breeding seasons. Females rear young during a four-month lactation period in a highly seasonal but predictable environment. Although females may first pup at three years of age, they did not attain full adult size until six years of age; older females (≥ 6 years) tended to be heavier, longer, and in better condition than younger females (3–5 years). Older females returned to breeding beaches earlier and could occupy the most suitable pupping sites, and gave birth when densities of animals on the beaches were low (i.e. more favourable for pup survival). Females that arrived earlier were able to remain ashore longer with their pups prior to departing on their first foraging trips but this was unrelated to either maternal age or condition. Younger females returned later in the pupping season, possibly as a result of late implantation due to smaller energy reserves than older and larger females. In 1990 all females arrived late, were in poorer condition, gave birth to lighter pups, and had shorter perinatal periods. This suggests that not only was implantation late but that females returned to an area of low food availability prior to parturition.

Ancillary