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Keywords:

  • population dynamics;
  • pinniped;
  • reproduction;
  • gray seal;
  • Halichoerus grypus

Abstract

Pup production on Sable Island, Nova Scotia, has been increasing exponentially since the early 1960s and by 1997 Sable Island was the largest gray seal colony worldwide. Using an aerial photographic survey, as in previous years, we estimated pup production in January 2004 to determine if this exponential rate of increase had continued. A total of 33,268 pups was counted on the color positives. When corrected for the proportion pups missed on the imagery (1.106 for the 12th; 1.527 on the 13th), the proportion of pups that died prior to the survey (0.031), and the proportion of pups born before the survey (east colony 0.966, west colony 0.962), estimated total pup production was 41,500 with SE = 4,381. The 2004 estimate indicates that pup production on Sable Island has continued to increase, but suggests that the rate of increase (r) may have declined (0.070 compared to previous 0.128). Females from the 1998–2000 cohorts were about 16 times less likely to give birth for the first time at age 4 yr and more than twice as likely at age 6 yr compared to those in the mid-late 1980s. The new estimate of pup production and observed changes in age of primiparity provide the first indication of changes in vital rates of this population. However, additional estimates of pup production and vital rates are needed to confirm this conclusion and to investigate the underlying mechanisms.