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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01114

Maternal behavior and early behavioral ontogeny of the Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus in Greece

Alexandros A. Karamanlidis*, Panagiotis Dendrinos, Fritz Trillmich

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Understanding the behavioral ontogeny is important for the successful conservation of endangered marine mammals; this is particularly the case in phocid seals, as during the early stages of their life they must acquire, largely independently, essential survival skills. We studied the maternal behavior and early behavioral ontogeny of the Mediterranean monk seal, one of the most endangered marine mammals on Earth, by installing a remote-controlled, infrared, video system in a pupping cave in Greece and recording the behavior of 2 adult females and their newborn pups (September 2007–March 2008). Behavioral observations focused on the monitoring of individual attendance (i.e. percentage in attendance and attendance time) and the description of interactions. Following parturition percentage in attendance of both mothers and pups decreased gradually as pups developed towards independence; overall, the pupping cave was used almost continuously by the 4 individuals for 3–4 months. Similarly, attendance times decreased also after parturition. During the first 10 d postpartum maternal attendance was followed by a 0.5–13.8-hour absence, during which we presume that the adult females went out foraging. We also detail for the first time in Mediterranean monk seals in Greece various in-cave interactions, including lactations, interactions between mothers and pups, interactions between pups and general seal interactions. Our study increases our understanding of the in-cave behavior of the Mediterranean monk seal, while highlighting the vital role of suitable pupping caves in the reproduction and survival of the species and the necessity to effectively protect this type of habitat.