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ESR 10:83-92 (2010)  -  DOI:

Factors influencing the winter haulout behaviour of Weddell seals: consequences for satellite telemetry

Virginia Andrews-Goff1,*, Mark A. Hindell1, Iain C. Field1,2, Kathryn E. Wheatley1,3, Jean-Benoît Charrassin4

1Antarctic Wildlife Research Unit, School of Zoology, University of Tasmania, PO Box 252-05, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia
2Marine Mammal Research Group, Graduate School for the Environment, Macquarie University, Sydney, New South Wales 2109, Australia
3Department of Marine Biology, Texas A&M University at Galveston, 5007 Avenue U, Galveston, Texas 77553, USA
4LOCEAN - UMR 7159, Départements Milieux et Peuplements Aquatiques, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, 43 rue Cuvier, 75231 Paris Cedex 05, France

ABSTRACT: An understanding of pinniped haulout behaviour can provide information on how animals interact with their environment, their foraging strategies and the behaviour of their prey. For Weddell seals Leptonychotes weddelli, knowledge of haulout patterns and the environmental drivers of haulout is comprehensive for the austral spring and summer, but is poorly described outside this period. Pinniped behaviour is commonly examined using satellite telemetry; however, it is unclear whether the behavioural state of the seal can itself influence data acquisition. We examined haulout behaviour of female Weddell seals in eastern Antarctica over 3 winters (March to August, 2006–2008) using satellite-linked data loggers. Haulout behaviour followed a diel cycle with predominantly nocturnal haulouts. The environmental variables wind speed and temperature were influential on haulout, with seals tending to haul out more in lower winds and at higher temperatures. Haulout duration decreased across the winter, as did the number of satellite uplinks, suggesting that haulout duration played a role in data acquisition. There was no evidence of a decline in tag condition over this period, indicating that the decrease in uplinks was primarily the result of the winter behaviour of the seals. Overall, the number of haulout locations in the data set was over-represented, with more uplinks per hour occurring when the seals were hauled out than when they were at sea. For Weddell seals and other ice seals, tracking data that include haulout locations can bias spatial representations of foraging behaviour (e.g. haulout sites may be mistaken for regions of area-restricted search).

KEY WORDS: Weddell seal · Haulout · Winter · Satellite telemetry

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Cite this article as: Andrews-Goff V, Hindell MA, Field IC, Wheatley KE, Charrassin J (2010) Factors influencing the winter haulout behaviour of Weddell seals: consequences for satellite telemetry. Endang Species Res 10:83-92.

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