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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The northern fur seal : biological relationships, ecological patterns and population management Trites, Andrew W.


Data collected from Pribilof far seals, Callorhinus ursinus, on land (1911-89) and at sea (1958-74) are analyzed to establish biological relationships and distinguish ecological patterns that are relevant to understanding and managing northern fur seal populations. The thesis follows the development of the fur seal from conception and birth through to sexual maturity and finally to a synthesis of the earlier material in terms of population regulation, management, and reasons for the decline of the Pribilof herd. Growth curves show that male fetuses grow faster and larger than female fetuses, and that fetal size is influenced by the age, size, and reproductive history of the mother. Juvenile and adult fur seals experience pronounced seasonal increases and decreases in body length and mass. Rapid gains in mass and growth occur during a brief 1-3 month period as the population migrates through the coastal waters of northern British Columbia and Alaska on its way to the Pribilof Islands. Body mass is gradually lost during the rest of the year while fasting on land and wintering along the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California. The timing of migration and pupping is highly synchronized from year to year and may be related to the effect of climatic conditions on pup survival during the breeding season. Predictions from a thermal budget developed for pups and the results of a seasonal decomposition of weather patterns on the Pribilof Islands show that the synchronism of births in early July corresponds to the start of three months of conditions that are optimal for growth and survival of pups. Long term fluctuations are noted in pup mass and subadult growth rates which may be related to underlying, large scale natural changes in prey abundance. Changes in the physiological condition (body growth) and vital rates (survival and reproduction) are analyzed for the period 1911-89 as the population increased and decreased. Few density dependent relationships could be demonstrated. Two hypotheses concerning the current decline of the Pribilof population are reviewed and a new, third hypothesis is proposed. The thesis also examines biases in data collection related to the effects of tagging and the handling of fur seals and outlines some directions for future research.

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