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Seals show different levels of parenting skills
Date:11/22/2011

Grey seals have different types of personality that affect the extent to which they guard and care for their young, according to new research.

Researchers from Durham University and the University of St Andrews, looking at seal colonies in Scotland, found that seal mothers are often unpredictable and adopt a wide variation of mothering styles when it comes to checking on their pups. Some are very attentive while others are not, the researchers found.

The Durham-St Andrews study shows, for the first time, the extent of personality differences in marine mammals in the wild. It shows how individual animals have differing behavioural 'styles', and how they may be limited in their ability to respond to different environments; a concern in a world of rapid environmental change and changing resources.

The study could have benefits for future conservation policy, habitat management and reveals new information about the process of evolution.

The first results are published in the journal Marine Mammal Science and will be presented at the 19th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals conference in Tampa, Florida, USA, November 27-December 2.

Researchers observed seals on the Scottish island of North Rona during the breeding season between September and November over two years. The team targeted seals in their natural habitat to analyse individual variation and consistency in behavioural response.

Using a remote controlled vehicle (RCV) with a fitted video camera, the researchers set up tests to assess how seals react to external stimuli and potential threats, including approaches by the RCV and wolf calls played from the vehicle, triggered by the operator controlling the car. The seals' responses ranged from disinterested to aggressive, however, the reasons for such a wide range of reactions are not clear, the researchers say.

The team checked the responses of seal mothers by recording
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Contact: Carl Stiansen
c.r.stiansen@durham.ac.uk
44-019-133-46077
Durham University
Source:Eurekalert

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