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Variability in Body Condition and Growth Rates for Rehabilitated Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina) Pups
Abstract: In the United States, Canada, and Europe harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) pups are commonly rehabilitated after stranding and then released. Size at release is likely important to post-release survival; however, data have not been compiled to track the body condition of rehabilitated harbor seals at release across the U.S. To better understand spatiotemporal variations in harbor seal morphometrics during rehabilitation and at release, this study retrospectively analyzed body conditions, weights, lengths, and growth rates of rehabilitated harbor seal pups in the U.S. Body condition index (BCI) was calculated, and weight and BCI were modeled regionally and temporally. There was significant variation in weight, length, BCI, and growth rate for rehabilitated and released seals between the East and West Coasts of the U.S. and among different years. Growth rates during rehabilitation were slower than reported for wild pups from birth to weaning. Length at release was not a strong predictor of weight. Because animals of similar weights can have different lengths, weight alone might not be the best criterion for pre-release body condition. A body condition score incorporating weight, length, and possibly other variables such as age or axillary girth could be more informative; however, data on post-release survival are needed to evaluate these options.
Key Words: body condition index, growth, harbor seal, Phoca vitulina, length, rehabilitation, weight
Page Numbers: 234-247