Skip to content

Research at St Andrews

Seals like it hot: Changes in surface temperature of harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) from late pregnancy to moult

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The annual moult in harbour seals (Phoca vitulina L.) follows a few weeks after the end of lactation and is characterised by a progressive loss and regrowth of hair which is apparent over a 4-6 week period. It is thought that during the moult harbour seals increase the time spent ashore as an adaptation to avoid additional energy costs associated with blood flow to the skin surface. The aim of this study was to determine the extent to which harbour seals regulated their surface temperature in order to maximise hair regrowth during the moult. The surface temperatures of two female harbour seals were recorded in captivity from late pregnancy to completion of the moult using infrared thermography. In this study, animals hauled out (exited the water onto land) more frequently during lactation and throughout the moult. Compared to the premoult period the temperature difference between body surface and air temperature (d (T) over bar) showed a similar to 10 degrees C elevation at the peak of the moult. Also, during the moult d (T) over bar reached a higher maximum at a faster rate over a two hour haul-out period. Heat loss was estimated to increase during the moult and was equivalent to an approximate doubling of resting metabolic rate. It was therefore evident that harbour seals minimise the energetic cost of the moult by hauling out so that they can maintain optimal high skin surface temperature for hair growth. Human disturbance at haul-out sites that causes animals to enter the water during the moult may have consequences for harbour seals for two reasons. Firstly, reduced time spent ashore in optimal conditions for hair regeneration may prolong the duration of the moult and secondly, repeatedly forcing animals into the water when their skin temperature is high will incur an energetic cost. (c) 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.



Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)454-461
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Thermal Biology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012

Discover related content
Find related publications, people, projects and more using interactive charts.

View graph of relations

Related by author

  1. Assesment of flipper tag site healing in gray seal pups using thermography.

    Paterson, W. D., Pomeroy, P., Sparling, C. E., Moss, S., Thompson, D., Currie, J. & McCafferty, D., 2010, In : Marine Mammal Science.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  2. Harbour Seal Decline - vital rates and drivers: Report to Scottish Government MMSS/002/15

    Arso Civil, M., Smout, S. C., Duck, C. D., Morris, C., Onoufriou, J., Thompson, D., Brownlow, A., Davison, N., Cummings, C., Pomeroy, P., McConnell, B. J. & Hall, A. J., Jun 2016, SMRU. 63 p.

    Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

  3. Wave & Tidal Consenting Position Paper Series: Marine Mammal Impacts

    Sparling, C. E., Coram, A. J., McConnell, B. J., Thompson, D., Hawkins, K. R. & Northridge, S., 21 Oct 2013, Natural Environment Research Council. 11 p.

    Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

  4. Baseline Seal Information for the FTWODG Area. SMRUL-FDG-2012-0 to FTOWDG

    Sparling, C. E., Russell, D. J. F., Jones, E. L., Grellier, K., Lonergan, M., McConnell, B. J., Matthiopoulos, J. & Thompson, D., May 2012, SMRU Consulting. 71 p.

    Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

Related by journal

  1. Temperature acclimatisation of swimming performance in the European Queen Scallop

    Bailey, DM. & Johnston, I. A., Feb 2005, In : Journal of Thermal Biology. 30, p. 119-124 6 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  2. Sustained swimming performance and muscle structure are altered by thermal acclimation in male mosquito fish.

    Hammill, E., Wilson, R. S. & Johnston, I. A., May 2004, In : Journal of Thermal Biology. 29, p. 251-257 7 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  3. Thermal sensitivity of growth, food intake and activity of juvenile brown trout

    Ojanguren, A. F., Reyes-Gavilan, FG. & Braña, F., Jun 2001, In : Journal of Thermal Biology. 26, p. 165-170 6 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  4. Estimation of intracellular pH in muscle of fishes from different thermal environments

    Taylor, S. E., Egginton, S., Taylor, E. W., Franklin, C. E. & Johnston, I. A., Jun 1999, In : Journal of Thermal Biology. 24, p. 199-208 10 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

ID: 27622916