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Keywords:

  • Amsterdam Island;
  • Arctocephalus tropicalis;
  • subantarctic fur seal;
  • parturition;
  • perinatal period;
  • mortality

Abstract

Early mortality and pup growth during the perinatal period were investigated in pups of the subantarctic fur seal Arctocephalus tropicalis on Amsterdam Island. Mothers that were shorter in body length and expected to be younger, gave birth earlier in the pupping season, compared with longer/older mothers. Pups born early were often still-born, suggesting that shorter/younger mothers that gave birth early in the season were not able to carry their foetuses to term. Pregnant females arrived ashore 1.4 days before giving birth, regardless of the date and their body condition. There was a positive relationship between maternal body length and pup birth mass. Consistently, birth mass increased throughout the pupping period. After parturition, mothers suckled their pups during an average 8.7-day postnatal period that was significantly shorter in mothers giving birth late in the season. However, the absolute gain in pup mass was 1.5 kg regardless of the birth date, suggesting that mothers did not leave their pups before they had transferred a given amount of body reserves to them. We propose that pups born late grew faster because they were bigger at birth and because their mothers were likely to be more experienced. Mothers in good condition, nursing male pups transferred more milk and therefore greater mass to their pup, whereas mothers in poor condition were unable to do so. Such differences did not occur in smaller female pups, suggesting that pup growth was limited by maternal resources in male pups but not in female pups. The lack of a relationship between birth mass and absolute gain during the perinatal period suggests that mass at birth determined pup body mass after the perinatal period. Body mass is an important factor in growth rate and survival during the period of pup dependence.