Seasonal variation in energy intake and condition of harp seals: Is there a harp seal morph? Problems for bioenergetic modelling



Seasonal changes in mass, fat depth, condition index and energy intake were measured in eight captive harp seals (Phoca groenlandica) over a 15-month period. Two of the five adult females were pregnant but lost their pups before term. There were large shifts in all variables measured. The range of these changes in the individual adult animals were for mass, 15–89%, blubber depth 56–240%, and condition index 13–23% (girth x 100)/length. Daily energy consumption varied from as little as 1.16 MJ to as much as 70.97 MJ. The two young males showed larger seasonal changes than the adults. Consistent with our earlier studies of harbour seals (Phoca vitulina), there was either a significantly negative or no correlation between energy intake and changes in mass or fat. Mass and blubber thickness were positively related in the male seals, however, this was true of the females only during spring and summer. Water and air temperature varied indirectly with changes in blubber thickness in all but two seals. It is proposed that metabolic rate varies seasonally in seals. The implications of these findings are discussed in the light of their impact on bioenergetic modelling.