After a couple of days of setting equipment up, and organising our accommodation and food supplies (more on that later no doubt!), both ourselves and the seals are in full swing. There are already plenty of seals on the island, and new females arriving to give birth all the time. The pictures below are some Sean snapped while doing some observations; this female took over half an hour to give birth (usually it is a fairly rapid process), but the picture illustrates nicely some of the challenges that mothers face in a dense seal colony – as soon as this pup was born two neighbouring mothers approached to check out the new pup, and started to give the mother some aggro! This is a real risk to the new mum, because if she fails to establish a good bond with her pup by learning the pup’s scent (and for the pup to learn the mother’s scent) then mother and pup may not be able to reunite if they become separated in a busy colony, which will ultimately lead to the death of the pup.
Fortunately the two neighbouring mothers seemed more interested in arguing with each other, and the new mum spent a good while sniffing her pup, and placed herself between the pup and the neighbours to protect it. So it looks like this pup will be well looked after.
At the peak of the breeding season there will be many more females ashore, and during the entire breeding season (about 8 weeks) there will be over 2000 pups born! So things will get pretty crowded on the island – making raising a pup successfully a real challenge to these mothers! Our work aims to look at how well the mothers cope with these challenges, and whether there is individual variation in mother’s abilities to deal with these natural stresses of a breeding season.