Lesions and Behavior Associated with Forced Copulation of Juvenile Pacific Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina richardsi) by Southern Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris nereis)

Abstract: Nineteen occurrences of interspecific sexual behavior between male southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) and juvenile Pacific harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardsi) were reported in Monterey Bay, California, between 2000 and 2002. At least three different male sea otters were observed harassing, dragging, guarding, and copulating with harbor seals for up to 7 d postmortem. Carcasses of 15 juvenile harbor seals were recovered, and seven were necropsied in detail by a veterinary pathologist. Necropsy findings from two female sea otters that were recovered dead from male sea otters exhibiting similar behavior are also presented to facilitate a comparison of lesions. The most frequent lesions included superficial skin lacerations; hemorrhage around the nose, eyes, flippers, and perineum; and traumatic corneal erosions or ulcers. The harbor seals sustained severe genital trauma, ranging from vaginal perforation to vagino-cervical transection, and colorectal perforations as a result of penile penetration. One harbor seal developed severe pneumoperitoneum subsequent to vaginal perforation, which was also observed in both female sea otters and has been reported as a postcoital lesion in humans. This study represents the first description of lesions resulting from forced copulation of harbor seals by sea otters and is also the first report of pneumoperitoneum secondary to forced copulation in a nonhuman animal. Possible explanations for this behavior are discussed in the context of sea otter biology and population demographics.

Key Words: sea otter, Enhydra lutris nereis, harbor seal, Phoca vitulina richardsi, forced copulation, interspecific sexual behavior, mating trauma, pneumoperitoneum

Document Type: Research article

DOI: 10.1578/AM.36.4.2010.331

Page Numbers: 331-341

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