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A preliminary investigation of the effect of repeated pedestrian approaches to Weddell seals ( Leptonychotes weddellii )

By T. van P. Petel, M. Giese, M. Hindell

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Repeated exposure to human activity can change the behavioural response of wildlife, having implications for management. Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii) breeding close to Antarctic research stations are easily accessible and regularly visited by people. To investigate the responses of Weddell seals to repeated pedestrian approaches, we tested the effect of regular visitation over a short-time period (<2 h) on the behaviour of lactating seals. Seals showed evidence of rapid habituation, as assessed by the higher proportion of seals that responded, with 67% looking up during the first approach compared to 18% during the 10th approach (R2=0.398, P=0.050), and by a decrease in the time spent looking at the approacher with repeated exposure ( chi 92=36.078, P<0.001). The effect of irregular pedestrian activity over a long-time period (approximately 3 weeks) was also examined, with results suggesting that such activity did not result in habituation, rather, adult female seals appeared to become sensitised to people (the majority of seals in both colonies looked up G1=0.027, P=0.870). Weddell seal pups observed during the same experiment also failed to display signs of habituation to irregular pedestrian activity, with 47% of pups looking up in the colony subjected to pedestrian activity compared to 10% in the control colony (G1=5.811, P=0.016). The implications of these results for managing human activity around breeding Weddell seals are discussed.

Date 2008
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 112
Issue 1/2
Pages 205-211
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
Language English
Author Address Antarctic Wildlife Research Unit, School of Zoology, University of Tasmania, G.P.O. Box 252-05, Hobart, 7001 Tasmania, Australia.
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Aquacultural and fisheries
  3. Aquatic organisms
  4. Biological resources
  5. Mammals
  6. Marine mammals
  7. peer-reviewed
  8. polar regions
  9. Seals
  10. Wild animals
  11. wildlife conservation
  1. peer-reviewed