Nosing behaviour in captive harbour seals (Phoca vitulina concolor) : implications for olfaction and affiliation

Hanlan, Suzanne K. (1998) Nosing behaviour in captive harbour seals (Phoca vitulina concolor) : implications for olfaction and affiliation. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Nosing behaviour has been shown to be an important component of social behaviour in a variety mammals. Some forms of social nosing are thought to serve as affiliative behaviours which promote group cohesion or tolerance; the olfactory and tactual senses may play a role in mediating these affiliative behaviours. In pinnipeds, nosing is thought to aid mothers in identifying their offspring, but little is known about nosing behaviours in contexts unrelated to mother-pup interaction. The objective of the present study was to examine the role of nosing in the social behaviour of captive harbour seals (Phoca vitulina concolor). Rates and types of nosing behaviour were expected to differ between individuals and between the breeding and non-breeding seasons. -- In this study, general activity and nosing behaviour of six captive harbour seals were observed over 43 weeks. A significant triple interaction between type of nosing (solo and dyadic), seal, and season (breeding and non-breeding) was found [F(5, 48)=6.35, p<.05]; some seals showed strong seasonal differences in solo and dyadic nosing rates while others did not. Dyadic nosing rates increased in the breeding season, while solo rates declined. Distinct individual differences were evident for most types of nosing, and seasonal patterns among males emerged for some types; for example, nose-to-nose and nose-to-body acts were more frequent during the breeding season, while nose-to-object acts were less frequent during this season. Solo and dyadic nosing acts were found to occur frequently and most often involved both open nares and protracted vibrissae, which may be indicative of olfactory and tactual involvement. A large proportion of nosing interactions, particularly nose-to-nose acts appeared to be mutually initiated and distinct partner preferences were evident, suggesting that some forms of nosing behaviour in harbour seals are affiliative. Quantification of affiliative behaviours, in conjunction with other measures, may help investigators address uncertainties regarding the social organization of wild seals. Further investigation is required to determine the exact role played by the olfactory and tactual senses in nosing behaviour.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Item ID: 9266
Additional Information: Bibliography: pages 169-179.
Department(s): Science, Faculty of > Cognitive and Behavioural Ecology
Date: 1998
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Harbor seal--Behavior; Captive marine mammals--Behavior

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