Onset and duration of gray seal (Halichoerus grypus) molt in the Wadden Sea, and the role of environmental conditions

Jessica Schop*, Geert Aarts, Roger Kirkwood, Jenny S.M. Cremer, Sophie M.J.M. Brasseur

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Surveys of gray seals (Halichoerus grypus) during the molt period, when they are abundant on land, can be used to monitor changes in population size, but accurate interpretation of results requires an understanding of the molt process and how it may vary between years. This study investigates variability in onset (start date) and duration of visible molt by gray seals in the Wadden Sea, and the influence of environmental conditions on the onset. Molt was monitored in nine captive seals and observed molt phases were applied to wild seals over seven annual molt periods between 2004 and 2010, monitored using aerial photography. The onset of visible molt varied significantly between years, for example it differed 28 d between 2008 and 2009. Model selection by AIC retained one environmental variable that correlated with molt onset; however, its effect was inconsistent within the molt season and did not explain some of the apparent observed annual variation. Hence, the main causes of interannual variability in the onset of molt remain unclear and warrant further study. Researchers should account for annual variability in the onset of molt when interpreting survey results based on molt counts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)830-846
JournalMarine Mammal Science
Volume33
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Keywords

  • Halichoerus grypus
  • Annual life cycle
  • Dutch Wadden Sea
  • Gray seals
  • Haul-out
  • North Sea
  • Peak molt
  • Phocid seals
  • Population monitoring

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