Bimodal Winter Haul-Out Patterns of Adult Weddell Seals (Leptonychotes weddellii) in the Southern Weddell Sea

Hauling out is an essential component of pinniped life-history. Haul-out behaviour may be affected by biological (e.g. sex, age and condition) and physical factors (e.g. food availability and environmental conditions), and identifying these factors may help explain the spatio-temporal distribution and habitat use of pinnipeds. The aim of this study is to describe observed winter haul-out patterns of adult Weddell seals in the Weddell Sea and investigate the role of potential predictors to gain insight into the way these animals interact with the physical environment in this region. We examined the haul-out behaviour in relation to available biological (i.e., diving effort, sex) and physical information (i.e., sun angle). Thirty-three satellite telemetry tags were deployed on adult Weddell seals in the southern Weddell Sea during February 2007, 2009 and 2011, following their annual moult recording information on the behavioural mode of the animal: at surface, hauled out or diving. At the end of the austral summer Weddell seals spent, on average, more than 40% of their time hauled out on the ice. Under constant light conditions, it appears that physiological factors drive sex differences in the timing and duration of haul-out behaviour, with females spending on average more time hauled out than males during daylight hours. This time spent hauled-out declined to around 15% in both sexes by the beginning of autumn and remained at this level with a clear nocturnal haul-out pattern during the winter. The time spent diving increased during this period, indicating an increase in foraging effort during the winter months, and led to a common haul-out pattern in both sexes over winter. We found a positive relationship between haul-out duration and the percentage of time spent diving prior to a haul-out in both sexes, with the exception of female daytime haul-outs early in the year.