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Integrating the concept of well-being into harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) conservation and captive care.

  • Terramar Research and SONAR


International Congress for Conservation Biology, Edmonton, Alberta 2010 INTEGRATING THE CONCEPT OF WELL-BEING INTO HARBOR SEAL (PHOCA VITULINA) CONSERVATION AND CAPTIVE CARE Oriel, Elizabeth, Antioch University New England, Keene NH, Frohoff, Toni, TerraMar Research, Santa Barbara, Ca. Bradshaw, G. A., The Kerulos Center, Jacksonville, Oregon. Kaplin, Beth. Antioch University New England, Keene, NH. Historically, conservation focuses on the scale of populations and species. However, there has been a growing awareness of the social and ecological key roles that individuals play. Further, concerns for animal welfare bring ethical attention. It is therefore no longer ethically nor practically cogent to ignore factors such as individual well-being in conservation design and monitoring. Drawing from a literature review and interviews with seal researchers, rehabilitation care-givers, and a veterinarian, we introduce and discuss well-being as a core concept for the conservation of harbor seals. We use a working definition of well-being as “integrity of form, function, the ability to strive and utilize one’s abilities” as a backdrop to this synthesis of the natural behavioral repertoire and characteristics of harbor seals. This definition can aid in decisions that concern coastal and oceanic environmental policy, laws that govern how humans treat marine mammals in captivity, rehabilitation, and in the wild, and in any actions that impact harbor seal individuals and colonies.
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
stress. !
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"
Literature Cited!
Bradshaw, G. A. and A. N. Schore. 2007. How elephants are opening doors: developmental neuroethology, attachment, and
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.!
Oliveira, A. F., A. O. Rossi, L. F. Silva, M. C. Lau, and R. E. Barreto. 2010. Play behavior in non-human animals and the
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. !
Verhoog, H. 2005. Animal integrity. In: Marie, M. et al. (Eds.) Animal Bioethics—Principles and Teaching Methods.
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. !
Wilson, S. C. 1974b. Juvenile play of the common seal, Phoca vitulina vitulina, with comparative notes on the grey seal
Halichoerus grypus. Behavior: 48:37-60.!
Results! !
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
Center. !
Two harbor seal pups in rehabilitation at Tara Seal
Research in N. Ireland. Photo courtesy of Tara
Seal Research. !
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
Etude du comportement de vigilance de Phoca vitulina concolor dans la baie de Fundy, sur les rochers ou les plages, et essai d'etablissement d'un rapport entre le degre de vigilance et la taille du groupe
Full-text available
The mission of defining animal welfare indicators is methodologically difficult, limited, and possibly impossible. A promising alternative, however, to evaluate suitable environmental conditions is the assessment of play behaviour. In the present review, we summarise the general aspects of play behaviour in nonhuman animals and propose its use as a potential indicator of animal welfare. Play behaviour probably occurs in most vertebrates and some invertebrates, but predominately in mammals. It is also more frequent in young males and is associated with the environmental context in which animals find themselves. Animals play if they are healthy and well-fed, but not if they are under stressful conditions or if they are in a stressful state. We can therefore use the prevalence of play behaviour as an indicator of suitable environmental conditions, considering the specificity associated with the above-mentioned modifying factors.
Juveniles of the common seal, Phoca vitulina, have two kinds of aquatic play : (1) Dyadic play, in which muzzle-to-body and body contact between two animals is combined with exuberant somersaulting movements. The somersaulting behaviour is usually preceded by a contact phase with very little movement. A play bout may end with a period of sustained, almost static contact. (2) Group play, which resembles the normal social haul-out activities, but each activity is repeated several times in a playful manner. Although several animals may be leaping and splashing simultaneously, each animal temporarily orients his play towards one other, whom it may contact briefly. All play by juveniles of the grey seal, Halichoerus grypus, is preceded by each animal of the dyad giving a stereotyped invitation signal, which must be repeated continually by both animals throughout play : each animal in turn lays its head over its partner's back. For the initial phase of play which takes place on the beach, the two animals lie beside one another, each lunging gently at the other's head, in between head-over-back signals. Adolescents may occasionally rear up and lunge at each other in a manner similar to the fighting of adult males. After playing on the beach, the pair may enter the water, where their play is similar to the dyadic play of the common seal. The aquatic somersaulting over one another by two animals in continuous body contact seems to be a pattern not found in these two species in other functional contexts. Common seal group play serves to (i) integrate the individuals into a unified group, and (ii) acquaint individuals. Although grey seals apparently do not have group play, behaviour which is probably functionally analogous was observed, in which the seals became acquainted over a 3-week period in early autumn before any play occurred.
The mother-young relationship of the common seal Phoca vitulina in Strangford Lough, N.E. Ireland, lasted about three weeks. Mothers with young were most active during the first two hours of the ebb, and also they spent more time in the water when the ebb occurred towards evening than in the morning. Characteristic behaviour in the water included (i) the mother guiding the pup and maintaining close contact with it (ii) playing, and (iii) the pup sleeping at the surface with the mother close by. Progressive changes in the relationship included a slight decrease in time spent by the mother in guiding the pup, a slight increase in time spent close together, an increase in time spent at a considerable distance apart, and an increase in time spent by the pup sleeping at the surface. Throughout the suckling period the mother controlled the onset of suckling, but rarely terminated it. Throughout, also, the pup broke contact the most, while the mother re-established contact the most. Just before weaning, mothers left their pups for long periods, the separation sometimes terminating a play bout.
. 1May to September observations on a colony of c. 400 Phoca vitulina in Shetland. The limiting factors of the habitat are described.2Daily 8 a.m. counts showed that numbers hauled out depended chiefly on swell or human disturbance (both erratic), to a lesser degree on the state of the tide and little, if at all, on rain and sun.3Relations with other species include: practically no overlap with Halichoerus grypus, indications that sea-birds may be taken as food, and man as a long-established enemy, mainly in the pupping season, when almost an entire generation may be wiped out.4In May and early June there was a great deal of play, apparently sexual, with “pairs” rolling together in the water. First pups appeared on June 14th when the play period ceased. The pupping season extended over three weeks.5Breeding behaviour proved largely aquatic. Pups may be born on tidal rocks or apparently even in the water. They found great difficulty in landing at first and spent most of their time at sea. Mothers guarded them closely for about three weeks and suckled them either in the shallows or ashore. Lactation lasted four weeks.6After the pups became independent, adults began to moult. Sexual play was not resumed and no coition was seen during this post-pupping season.7Of the seals present at the beginning of the season c. 15 per cent were yearlings and possibly only 70 per cent. were adult. The number of pups born was c. 18 per cent of the total population. Comparisons are made with a colony in Orkney.
Ethology's renewed interest in developmental context coincides with recent insights from neurobiology and psychology on early attachment. Attachment and social learning are understood as fundamental mechanisms in development that shape core processes responsible for informing behaviour throughout a lifetime. Each field uniquely contributes to the creation of an integrated model and encourages dialogue between Tinbergen's four analytical levels: ethology in its underscoring of social systems of behaviour and context, psychology in its emphasis on socio-affective attachment transactions, and neuroscience in its explication of the coupled development of brain and behaviour. We review the relationship between developmental context and behaviour outcome as a topic shared by the three disciplines, with a specific focus on underlying neuroethological mechanisms. This interdisciplinary convergence is illustrated through the example of abnormal behaviour in wild African elephants (Loxodonta africana) that has been systematically observed in human-caused altered social contexts. Such disruptions impair normative socially mediated neuroendocrinological development leading to psychobiological dysregulation that expresses as non-normative behaviour. Aberrant behaviour in wild elephants provides a critical field example of what has been established in ex situ and clinical studies but has been largely absent in wild populations: a concrete link between effects of human disturbance on social context, and short- and long-term neuroethology. By so doing, it brings attention to the significant change in theories of behaviour that has been occurring across disciplines – namely, the merging of psychobiological and ethological perspectives into common, cross-species, human inclusive models.
Identity concept formation was tested in a harbor seal using a visual multiple-choice matching-to-sample task. The seal was first trained on a two-alternative matching task. After criterion (> or =80% correct choices in two successive sessions) was reached with two sets of two stimuli (Figure 3, Blocks A and B), stimulus sets were enlarged to six objects (Blocks C-G). After the seal reached criterion immediately with two successive sets (Blocks F and G), multiple-choice matching was introduced, first using stimulus sets of four familiar objects (Blocks H-M). After the seal reached the criterion immediately with two successive sets (Blocks L and M), completely new objects were used in two further stimulus sets (Blocks N and O). The seal immediately applied the matching rule in all four sessions (> or =80% correct choices). In two further sessions with problems composed of all 38 familiar stimuli, the seal again reached the criterion (Block P). In the final, transfer session, 20 new problems were composed of 80 unknown stimuli (Block Q). The seal immediately applied the matching rule in these one-trial tests, showing that harbor seals can conceptualize complex visual information.