Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 27, Issue 2, pp 113–122

Fostering behavior in Hawaiian monk seals: is there a reproductive cost?

  • Daryl J. Boness


Fostering behavior has been reported in a large number of mammal and bird species although the relative frequency of its occurrence in most species is unknown. A commonly held view is that fostering is costly to the parent(s) engaged in it. However, empirical studies of fostering are few, and measures of either cost or benefit are even rarer. During a study of individually marked Hawaiian monk seal mothers and pups, observed over the course of maternal care, I found that 87% of 30 females fostered pups. Females sequentially fostered an average of 2.3 pups (range: 1–5 pups) during the approximately 40-day lactation. The median proportion of lactation spent fostering was 34% (range: 5%–90%). Confusion during aggressive interactions appeared to be the major antecedent of fostering and may be understandable in terms of the spatial pattern among females. The density of females with pups was relatively low for a land-breeding seal (1.5 females per 1000 m2), and the typical spatial pattern indicated a tendency toward dispersion. Yet, movements of females and pups to and from water occasionally leave females within a meter or two of each other. Several measures of the immediate reproductive cost of fostering were obtained, including: the length of time suckled by pups, the size of pups at the end of suckling, and survivorship to 1 year of age. There was no correlation between these measures for individual pups and the extent to which their mothers fostered, indicating that the high levels of fostering may be maintained in monk seals because they are not selected against.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daryl J. Boness
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Zoological Research, National Zoological ParkSmithsonian InstitutionWashingtonUSA

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