, Volume 34, Issue 7, pp 1097-1103

Ontogeny of aquatic behaviours in Antarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus gazella) pups in relation to growth performances at Kerguelen Islands

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Abstract

In diving marine predators, such as pinnipeds, the development of diving and foraging skills prior to weaning might be critical to post-weaning survival. Here, we examined the effect of pup mass growth on the amount of time devoted to aquatic activities and the dive performance of Antarctic fur seal, Arctocephalus gazella, pups on Kerguelen Island. Maternal attendance and mass-specific growth rate were assessed for 85 pups. Two types of monitoring were applied: visual observations of behaviours for 60 pups and the deployment of time-depth recorders (TDRs) on 19 female pups. At approximately 2 months of age, pups demonstrated minimal diving behaviour, but displayed considerable aquatic activity. While mothers were foraging at sea, pups fasted on land (6.0 ± 1.3 d). As the mass-specific growth rate was different between sexes, only data on female pups were analysed (n = 31). Mass-specific growth rate was related to maternal attendance patterns and impacted the amount of time allocated by pups to aquatic activities. The time spent in the water by pups was quadratically related to fasting progress. This study shows the importance of growth and fasting progress on the quantity of time pups devoted to aquatic activities. Our results suggest that greater post-weaning survival of heavier pups may be due not only to their greater body reserves, as reported in several studies, but also possibly to from their greater aquatic skills and physiological adaptations developed during the suckling period.