Matt Carter


For young animals, surviving the first year of nutritional independence requires rapid development of effective foraging behaviour before the onset of terminal starvation. Grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) pups are abandoned on the natal colony after a brief (15-21 days) suckling period and must learn to dive and forage without parental instruction. Regional and sex-specific differences in diet and foraging behaviour have been described for adults and juveniles, but the early-life behaviour of pups during the critical first months at sea remains poorly understood. This thesis investigates sources of intrinsic and extrinsic variation in the development of foraging behaviour and resource selection in grey seal pups. The studies presented here feature tracking and dive data collected from 52 recently-weaned pups, tagged at six different breeding colonies in two geographically-distinct regions of the United Kingdom (UK). Original aspects of this thesis include: (Chapter I) a comprehensive review of analytical methods for inferring foraging behaviour from tracking and dive data in pinnipeds; (Chapter II) description and comparison of regional and sex differences in movements and diving characteristics of recently-weaned pups during their first trips at sea; (Chapter III) implementation of a novel generalized hidden Markov modelling (HMM) technique to investigate the development of foraging movement patterns whilst accounting for sources of intrinsic (age, sex) and extrinsic (regional) variation; and (Chapter IV) the first analysis of grey seal pup foraging habitat preference, incorporating behavioural inferences from HMMs and investigating changes in preference through time.

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