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Courtship Display, Agonistic Behavior and Social Dynamics in the Steller Sea Lion (Eumetopias Jubatus)

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Females of the Steller sea lion perform elaborate courtship displays in a period of about 15 days around the time when ovulation and copulation should occur. These displays are directed towards and strongly stimulate the males. The display is of a submissive nature but elements related to sexual, aggressive and take-off behavior are also involved. The most striking features of the display are when the female mounts, climbs over and bites different parts of the male's body, then rushes away and makes intention movements of departing to sea or crossing to another territory, normally eliciting a strong response from the male she is courting and intensive territorial activity among the surrounding males. Towards the end of the breeding season when the number of estrous females decreases the frequency of display among individual females increases. This is probably a response to declining territorial motivation among males. But as long as there are displaying females in the colony new males replace the departing ones. It is suggested that the display functions as a social releaser, primarily reinforcing territorial and sexual motivation among males. Also, the display through its influence on dominance relations could have a far reaching impact on, among other things, the stability of the male and female social structures and pup mortality.

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Affiliations: 1: (The Research Department, Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm, Sweden


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