Shark-inflicted mortality on a population of harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) at Sable Island, Nova Scotia

Authors


All correspondence to: Dr W. T. Stobo. E-mail: stobow@mar.dfo-mpo-gc.ca

Abstract

Shark-inflicted mortality on harbour seals Phoca vitulina on Sable Island, Nova Scotia, was studied from 1980 to 1997, based on carcasses washed up on shore. During this period, pup production declined dramatically from over 600 in 1989 to 40 in 1997. Between 1980 and 1992, pup deaths only were recorded, and only during the May–June pupping period, while deaths in all age groups were recorded year-round between 1993 and 1997; 458 pups, 23 juveniles and 241 adults were found. Shark-inflicted mortality in pups, as a proportion of total production, was under 10% during 1980–93, roughly 25% in 1994–95, and increased to 45% in 1996. Shark-inflicted mortality occurred in all months except December, January and February, with c. 80% of the pups killed during the pupping period, and 97% of the adults killed outside the pupping period. The decline in pup production was not only a result of reduced recruitment owing to pup mortality. A greater proportion of reproductive females than males was killed. We estimate that shark-inflicted mortality on pups and adult females reduced pup production on Sable Island by 43 to 154 pups annually between 1993 and 1997. Our results indicate that sharks are having an impact on Sable Island harbour seals, possibly to the extent of limiting population growth, or contributing to the observed population decline. Potential reasons for this increased mortality are discussed.

Ancillary