Abstract: Harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) births occur frequently in captive environments, yet little data have been published on observations associated with these events. We describe the quasi-simultaneous pregnancies and labours of two primiparous harbour seals at the Danish aquarium and research facility, Fjord & Bælt. There were considerable differences between these two females in their behaviour, the duration/frequency of labour contractions, and the postpartum events. One had a difficult labour, with an extended expulsion phase, and delivered a stillborn pup. The other successfully gave birth to a female. The physiological mechanisms regulating the food intake during pregnancy and lactation in harbour seals are unknown; however, observations during this study of both the increases in food intake during pregnancy and the cessation of eating when labour was imminent suggest that there may be similarities with other mammals, such as humans, cows, and minks, in which these processes involve leptin, a hormone involved in metabolism regulation. Whether this is indeed the case for harbour seals is unknown and is a recommendation for future studies as is the recording of birthing processes in captive environments. Such a database on birth may provide comparative indicators of labour progress, speed, and outcome.

Key Words: Harbour seal, Phoca vitulina, pregnancy, zoological environment, food intake

Document Type: Research article

DOI: 10.1578/AM.32.2.2006.145

Page Numbers: 145-151

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