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Keywords:

  • harbor seal;
  • Phoca vitulina ;
  • movement;
  • rehabilitation;
  • site fidelity;
  • stranding;
  • telemetry

Abstract

Harbor seal (Phoca vitulina richardii) populations in the inland waters of Washington and British Columbia are at or near carrying capacity. Stranded pups often are collected and admitted to rehabilitation centers, and then released when they reach a weight of 22 kg and meet a variety of preestablished health and release conditions. While rehabilitation is common practice, it is unclear if rehabilitated seal pups behave like wild weaned pups. Using satellite transmitters, we compared movement patterns of 10 rehabilitated pups with 10 wild weaned pups. When released, rehabilitated seals were longer and heavier than wild pups, while wild pups had a larger mean axillary girth. No clinically different blood parameters were detected. On average, rehabilitated harbor seal pups traveled nearly twice as far cumulatively, almost three times as far daily, and dispersed over three times as far from the release site compared to wild weaned seals. Additionally, wild harbor seals transmitted nearly twice as long as did rehabilitated seals. These patterns suggest that learned behavior during the brief 3–4 wk nursing period likely enables wild harbor seal pups to move less daily and remain closer to their weaning site than rehabilitated pups.