UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Hauling out behaviour of harbour seals : (Phoca vitulina richardsi), with particular attention to thermal constraints Watts, Peter


Harbour seals throughout their range are known to "haul out" onto land according to a daily cycle, which has never been fully investigated. This cycle may represent a tradeoff between the need to forage and the need to avoid aquatic predators; if so, seals should forage when prey availability is greatest and remain hauled at other times. A model based upon these premises accounted for approximately two thirds of the variation in observed hauling behaviour at a harbour seal colony in the Strait of Georgia, once other environmental effects had been filtered from the data. Some such effects could not be corrected for; since air temperature and solar radiation follow the same general pattern as that predicted by the hauling model, the possibility that hauling occurs in response to thermal conditions could not be excluded. This issue was addressed by correlating hauling activity at three seal colonies with "flux" Fs, an index of heat exchange between a seal and its environment. Once time of day and tidal effects were accounted for, there was no evidence of a positive correlation between hauling and Fs. However, under warm summer conditions there was a steep negative relationship. This is consistent with the possibility that hauled harbour seals are vulnerable to hyperthermia due to their adaptation to an aquatic lifestyle; the same blubber layer which keeps them warm when immersed may make it difficult for them to lose excess heat when on land. This was confirmed by a series of controlled experiments. Captive seals overheated when exposed to a radiant thermal environment similar to that in which wild animals stopped hauling. These data allowed me to derive an equation which described the rate of change in a seal's core temperature as a function of both present core temperature and Fs. I incorporated this function into a simulation model which described hauling behaviour in terms of a foraging/predator-avoidance tradeoff. The model performed well when used to predict the haul out durations of a sample of wild radio-tagged harbour seals in a known thermal environment. However, it is apparent that the processes which constrain hauling in this species are somewhat better understood than those which presumably cause it. An understanding of the foraging efficiency of harbour seals throughout the day, and of the predation risks they face, is probably fundamental to an understanding of hauling; yet these issues remain virtually unexplored.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.