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Mother-Young Interactions in the Common Seal, Phoca Vitulina Vitulina

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image of Behaviour

The mother-young relationship of the common seal Phoca vitulina in Strangford Lough, N.E. Ireland, lasted about three weeks. Mothers with young were most active during the first two hours of the ebb, and also they spent more time in the water when the ebb occurred towards evening than in the morning. Characteristic behaviour in the water included (i) the mother guiding the pup and maintaining close contact with it (ii) playing, and (iii) the pup sleeping at the surface with the mother close by. Progressive changes in the relationship included a slight decrease in time spent by the mother in guiding the pup, a slight increase in time spent close together, an increase in time spent at a considerable distance apart, and an increase in time spent by the pup sleeping at the surface. Throughout the suckling period the mother controlled the onset of suckling, but rarely terminated it. Throughout, also, the pup broke contact the most, while the mother re-established contact the most. Just before weaning, mothers left their pups for long periods, the separation sometimes terminating a play bout.

Affiliations: 1: (Department of Zoology, Glasgow University Scotland, U.K.


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