The researchers were able to observe behaviour over two years as many seals return to the same site to breed, and identification of particular individuals is relatively easy as seals have very individual patterns on their fur. The team ran an 11-minute test on 28 females during which they were approached by the RCV and the wolf call was played.
Female seals varied considerably in their responses to the RCV from almost completely ignoring its presence to pushing it with their muzzles.
Lead author, Dr Sean Twiss, School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Durham University, said: "Our findings show that there is no such thing as an average seal. Individuals behave differently and do so consistently. We found that some seal mothers are very watchful when something potentially threatening approaches them, while other mums barely check their pups at all.
"Why female grey seals express individually consistent patterns of pup checking is unknown. It might be expected that females should be able to change their behaviour according to the situation but the non-attentive mothers remained inattentive. Our results show large differences in response to the same potential dangers."
The researchers also checked the response of male seals to the RCV and logged a wide range of reactions from rapid retreat to approaching it in a threatening way (e.g. the use of open mouth threats). Some males, particularly the dominant ones, were consistently alert and aggressive, and challenged the RCV; others were much more cautious and immediately moved away from the vehicle.
In both male and female seals, behaviour was not linked to fact
|Contact: Carl Stiansen|