ESR 10:255-267 (2009)  -  doi:10.3354/esr00170

Using mobile phone telemetry to investigate the haul-out behaviour of harbour seals Phoca vitulina vitulina

M. A. Cronin1,*, A. F. Zuur2, E. Rogan3, B. J. McConnell4

1Coastal & Marine Resources Centre, ERI, University College Cork, Naval Base, Haulbowline, Cobh, Co. Cork, Ireland
2Highland Statistics Ltd., 6 Laverock Road, Newburgh AB41 6FN, UK
3Department of Zoology, Ecology & Plant Science, University College Cork, The Enterprise Centre, Distillery Fields, North Mall, Co. Cork, Ireland
4Sea Mammal Research Unit, Gatty Marine Laboratory, University of St. Andrews, Fife KY16 8LB, UK

ABSTRACT: Information on the haul-out behaviour of pinnipeds is essential for increasing the accuracy of population estimates necessary for the effective conservation of protected species, as well as improving survey design. The haul-out behaviour of 10 harbour seals Phoca vitulina L. in southwest Ireland was examined using a novel telemetry system based on global systems for mobile communications technology. The data on the haul-out patterns of tagged individuals were examined using generalised additive modelling to determine potential factors of influence, such as the tide, the time of day and the time of year. The behaviour varied among seals, with time ashore reaching a maximum during post-moult in October and decreasing to a minimum in February. A strong tidal influence on haul-out behaviour was evident. Tagged seals hauled out more frequently at low tide. There was variation between individuals in the influence of time of day on haul-out behaviour. A cyclic pattern with lunar periodicity was evident in seals tagged in October, and the pattern varied between tidal periods. There was an overall large variation in patterns of behaviour over the tagging period, both between individuals and between tidal periods for each individual. This cautions against making inferences on the haul-out behaviour of the ‘population’ based on the behaviour of a small number of tagged individuals. The present study provides detailed information, heretofore unavailable, on the haul-out behaviour of individual harbour seals and on the behaviour of the species in Ireland, and it has important implications for population assessment for conservation purposes across the species’ entire geographical range.

KEY WORDS: Generalised additive modelling · Haul-out behaviour · Lunar influence · Telemetry

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Cite this article as: Cronin MA, Zuur AF, Rogan E, McConnell BJ (2009) Using mobile phone telemetry to investigate the haul-out behaviour of harbour seals Phoca vitulina vitulina. Endang Species Res 10:255-267

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