AQUATIC MATING STRATEGIES OF THE MALE PACIFIC HARBOR SEAL (PHOCA VITULINA RICHARDII): ARE MALES DEFENDING THE HOTSPOT?

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Abstract

Compared to the harem and resource defense systems of terrestrial mating pinnipeds, males of aquatic mating species appear unable to monopolize females or resources. We investigated movements, acoustics, and aquatic territorial behavior of male harbor seals, Phoca vitulina richardii, in Elkhorn Slough, California, using VHF telemetry, hydrophones, and acoustic playback experiments. During the mating season 22 males increased time spent in the water and away from haul-out locations, exhibiting activity patterns similar to Atlantic subspecies. Two acoustic display patterns were observed. At one location multiple males aggregated to display with acoustic activity peaking one month before peak estrus. At two other locations, lone males displayed primarily during peak estrus. Acoustic display areas were non-adjacent with a mean ± SE size of 4,228 ± 576 m2, similar to harbor seal display patterns in the Moray Firth, Scotland. Underwater playbacks of male vocalizations were used to define territorial boundaries by inducing responses from territory-holding males. Four solitary males defended adjacent territories (mean area 39,571 ± 18,818 m2) along a travel corridor, similar to observations of harbor seals at Miquelon, Newfoundland. Acoustic display stations appeared to be subcomponents of larger territories. Males exhibited site fidelity to territories for at least 2–4 yr. Females moved through territories freely. The establishment of male-display territories along female-traffic corridors resembles terrestrial systems described as hotspot leks.

Ancillary