Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 1–10

Does male harassment of females contribute to reproductive synchrony in the grey seal by affecting maternal performance?

  • Daryl J. Boness
  • W.Don Bowen
  • Sara J. Iverson

DOI: 10.1007/BF00175722

Cite this article as:
Boness, D.J., Bowen, W. & Iverson, S.J. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (1995) 36: 1. doi:10.1007/BF00175722


We investigated the possibility that male harassment of lactating females differed in relation to time of birth in the grey seal, Halichoerus grypus, on Sable Island, Nova Scotia. This was done by comparing the frequency of male disturbances, maternal performance and pup growth for females that either gave birth during the peak of the pupping season or after the peak. Of the females, 58% gave birth in a 7-day period near the beginning of the pupping period, when the operational sex ratio was 2–4 females per male. Late in the pupping period the operational sex ratio reversed to about 1 female for every 2 males. The relative frequency of disturbances by males was significantly greater for late-pupping mothers than for peak-pupping ones (1.9 vs. 1.4 encounters/h). Females that gave birth late also were disturbed by males 3 times more often than females that gave birth during the peak (3.4 vs. 1.1 % of observation time). Late-pupping mothers spent 22% less time suckling (4.0 vs. 5.1 % of observation time), had 30% slower growing pups (1.7 vs. 2.4 kg/d), and weaned pups that were 16% lighter (45.6 vs. 54.0 kg). The effect of birth time on pup mass gain and weaning mass was not attributable to factors such as maternal mass, pup birth mass or pup sex. We conclude that the reduced maternal performance is likely the result of the increased male harassment. As reduced weaning mass can lead to reduced juvenile survival, male harassment may have contributed to the enhanced reproductive synchrony in this species.

Key words

Halichoerus grypus Male disturbance Late pupping Pup growth Reproductive synchrony 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daryl J. Boness
    • 1
  • W.Don Bowen
    • 2
  • Sara J. Iverson
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Zoological ResearchNational Zoological ParkWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.Marine Fish DivisionBedford Institute of OceanographyNova ScotiaCanada
  3. 3.Canadian Institute of Fisheries TechnologyTechnical University of Nova ScotiaHalifaxCanada
  4. 4.Department of BiologyDalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada

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