Deﬁning aspects of well-being for harbor
seals (Phoca vitulina) can elevate care
practices and conservation policies that
impact this species and is valuable for the
care and conservation of pinniped species
at risk. Many endogenous traits relevant
to harbor seals’ psychological and physical
welfare are disputed in the literature.
Whether they develop social bonds with
one another and whether a social
structure exists within group haul-outs are
not agreed upon. Using interviews of seal
researchers and caregivers and extant
literature on harbor seal life cycle and
sociality, we examine well-being, stress,
and sociability, incorporating new trans-
species neuropsychological models and
cognitive ethological methods to assess
harbor seal well-being.!
• To assess harbor seals using a working
deﬁnition of well-being as integrity of for m and
function (Verhoog 2005) and the ability to strive
and utilize one’s capacities!
• To construct and implement a new heuristic
model for assessment of individuals and
populations from experts’ experiences that
emphasizes psychological well-being and
social needs and capacities, creating an
evaluative tool for assessing harbor seal well-
• To utilize a multi-disciplinary approach that
includes new trans-species
neuropsychological models (Bradshaw &
Schore 2007) and cognitive ethological
methods (Frohoff 2004).!
We are grateful to all the seal researchers for participating, and especially Ronald Schusterman, who has since passed away.!
• Interviews with seven harbor seal
researchers, rehabilitation caregivers and
one veterinarian (Table 1). Interviewees
chosen for a diversity of backg rounds
combined with strong credibility.!
• Interviews with open-ended, non-leading
questions, structured around an interview
• Analysis of the interview material was
issue-focused, and went through four
stages; coding, sorting, local integration
and inclusive integration (Weiss 1994). !
• Each interviewee asked to describe a seal
pup and adult that exempliﬁes well-being,
unique characteristics of harbor seals
relative to other pinnipeds, social
capacities and social bonds, the role of
vocalizations in assessing well-being,
cognitive and navigational abilities,
methods to enhance well-being in
rehabilitation, the causes of stereotypy
and how to avoid behavioral indicators of
• In the interviews, seal experts in agreement on
many aspects of harbor seal well-being. !
• The matrix below (Table 2) may provide an
effective tool for assessing harbor seal well-
being, in concert with consideration of the
environmental context and the threats for
rehabilitated seals at release sites.!
• Further research is needed on harbor seal
sociability and association patterns.!
Elizabeth Oriel1, Toni Frohoff2,, G. A. Bradshaw3, Beth A. Kaplin1"
1Antioch University New England, Keene, NH, USA; 2TerraMar Research, CA, USA; 3The Kerulos Center, OR, USA"
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social context. Ethology 113: 426-436.!
Frohoff, T. G. 2004. Stress in dolphins. Pages 1158-1164 in Mark Bekoff, editor. Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior.
Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut. !
Menzel, E. W., Jr., and E. J. Wyers. 1981. Cognitive aspects of foraging behavior. In Foraging behavior: ecological
ethological, and psychological approaches, ed. A. C. Kamil and T. D. Sargent. Garland STPM Press, New York. !
Mauck, B., N. Glaser, W. Schlosser, G. Dehnhardt. 2008. Harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) can steer by the stars. Animal
Cognition: 11: 715-718. !
Mauck, B. and G. Dehnhardt. 2005. Identity concept formation using visual multiple- choice matching in a harbor seal.
Learning and Behavior 33: 428-436. !
Mauck, B. and G. Dehnhardt. 2007. Spatial multiple-choice matching in a harbor seal (Phoca vitulina): differential encoding
of landscape versus local feature information. Animal Cognition 10: 397-405.!
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animal welfare issue. Journal of Ethology 28: 1-5!
Renouf, D. and D. Diemand. 1984. Behavioral interactions between harbor seal mothers and pups during weaning.
Mammalia 48: 53-58. !
Terhune, J. M. 1985. Scanning behavior of harbor seals on haul-out sites. Journal of Mammalogy 66: 392-395. !
Venables, U. M. and L. S. V. Venables. 1955. Observations on a breeding colony of the seal Phoca vitulina in Shetland.
Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 125: 521-532. !
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Wageningen Academic Publishers, The Netherlands. !
Weiss, R. S. 1994. Learning from Strangers: the art and method of qualitative interview studies. The Free Press: New York. !
Wilson S. C. 1974a. Mother-young interactions in the common seal, Phoca vitulina vitulina. Behavior 48: 23-36. !
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Halichoerus grypus. Behavior: 48:37-60.!
• Sociability And Social Structure- three
experts said unequivocally that they have
witnessed social structure and interaction in
the wild, two could not comment without
further studies, and one said harbor seals have
no social structure.!
• What Characteristics Make Them Unique-
three most common responses are their
sensitivity and timidity, their social dynamics
and their relationship to humans that can
include aggression, curiosity, receptivity. !
• Striving for Well-Being in Rehabilitation-
three experts mentioned housing seals together
and high-fat milk, ﬁve mentioned enrichment
such as play objects and feeding live ﬁsh and
two said releasing at the earliest time possible
to allow pups to join their cohort.!
Integrating the concept of well-being into harbor seal (Phoca vitulina)
conservation and care!
Release of harbor seals in CA, USA. Photo !
courtesy of The Marine Mammal Center, CA. !
Harbor seal pup in rehabilitation at The Marine Mammal
Center, CA. Photo courtesy of The Marine Mammal
Two harbor seal pups in rehabilitation at Tara Seal
Research in N. Ireland. Photo courtesy of Tara
Seal Research. !