Bowen, W. D., S.L. Ellis, S.J. Iverson & D.J. Boness. 2003. Maternal and newborn life-history traits during periods of contrasting population trends: implications for explaining the decline of harbour seals, Phoca vitulina, on Sable Island. Journal of Zoology London 261: 155-163.
Abstract: “Annual censuses of the number of harbour seal Phoca vitulina pups born on Sable Island Canada showed an increasing trend during the 1980s, but a rapid decline through the 1990s from 625 pups in 1989 to only 32 by 1997. Weekly surveys of the north beach of the island during the 1991-98 breeding seasons showed that the number of adults and juveniles also declined during the 1990s. Despite dramatic demographic changes, maternal postpartum mass, pup birth mass, relative birth mass, lactation duration, pup weaning mass and relative weaning mass showed no significant trends during 1987-96. However, two traits did change. The age structure of parturient females increased significantly, indicating reduced recruitment to the breeding population. Mean birth date increased by 7 days during the early 1990s, suggesting nutritional stress of females and later implantation dates. This nutritional stress may in turn have been caused by increased competition from the rapidly increasing grey seal population on Sable Island. Although minimum estimates of shark-inflicted mortality can account for much of the decline, evidence suggests that food shortage arising from interspecific competition may have also played a role in causing the decline of the population through effects on fecundity and juvenile survival.”