SEAL pups can either be born to play-it-safe mothers or those who take risks, a study involving North East experts has revealed.
Researchers from Durham University and the University of St Andrews have found that some grey seal mothers “gamble” on the outcome of their actions, while others play it safe and steady.
The study is the first to demonstrate how variation in personality traits in large marine mammals in the wild can persist, rather than a single, successful, personality type dominating the population.
Although the study looked at Scottish colonies, with a population of around 4,000 grey seals, the Farne Islands off Northumberland is of major importance.
The research shows that some seal mothers have a very fixed approach to looking after their pups, and tend to behave in a similar fashion whatever the local conditions on the breeding colony.
But others try to adjust their mothering behaviour according to the local conditions.
In potentially unpredictable situations, this can be risky – sometimes they get it right and their pups fare very well, but other times they might get it wrong and their pups do rather badly.
Lead study author Dr Sean Twiss, of Durham’s School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, said: “Some mums have a very fixed way of caring for their pups, come what may, while others are more flexible.
“Seals that gamble and try to fit their behaviour to their immediate surroundings can do very well, if they get it right. However, being flexible can be risky – a mum might misjudge the conditions and fail to match her behaviour to the prevailing conditions.
“In either resting or disturbed situations, seal mums behaved in very individual ways, some showing high levels of maternal attentiveness, others showing low levels.”