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The Gray Seal: 80 Years of Insight into Intrinsic and Extrinsic Drivers of Phocid Behavior

Twiss, Sean and Bishop, Amy and Culloch, Ross (2022) 'The Gray Seal: 80 Years of Insight into Intrinsic and Extrinsic Drivers of Phocid Behavior.', in Ethology and Behavioral Ecology of Phocids. Cham: Springer, pp. 313-360. Ethology and Behavioral Ecology of Marine Mammals.


The gray seal is a data-rich species with behavioral studies dating back to the 1940s. The reasons for the wealth of knowledge are partly fortuitous; pioneering naturalists ventured forth to remote island colonies around the UK and Canada to observe the ‘hook-nosed sea-pig’ during their annual breeding seasons. These early qualitative treatises on gray seal behavior ignited further, more quantitative, research interest, which has continued to expand to this day. Several gray seal traits enhance its suitability as a study system for understanding drivers of behavior, such as their ease of observation and site fidelity during breeding, and unique pelage patterns enabling the collection of long-term data on known individuals. Gray seals also inhabit a remarkable variety of habitats, both on land and at sea, facilitating comparative studies of environmental drivers of behavior. These traits have enabled pioneering behavioral research across a wide range of life-history stages. This chapter aims to capture the diversity of behavioral knowledge derived from gray seals, revealing how they interact with one another and their environment. We also highlight new research areas likely to present research opportunities and challenges in the near future, especially in the context of rapidly changing terrestrial and marine environments.

Item Type:Book chapter
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo until 18 March 2024.
(AM) Accepted Manuscript
File format - PDF
Publisher Web site:
Publisher statement:This a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of a chapter published in Ethology and Behavioral Ecology of Phocids. The final authenticated version is available online at:
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:06 April 2022
Date of first online publication:18 March 2022
Date first made open access:18 March 2024

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