Unique Scent Profile Is Crucial to Mother Antarctic Fur Seal Re-Locating Her Pup on Beach After Return from Food-Gathering Trips into Ocean

Researchers studying Antarctic fur seals have discovered the seals’ scent has a unique “profile” which enables them to recognize their offspring and family members. Until now, researchers had thought voice recognition was the most important means for finding their young, but now it is proven that scent also plays a crucial role. The results were published online on August 10, 201510 in PNAS. The article is titled “Chemical Fingerprints Encode Mother-Offspring Similarity, Colony Membership, Relatedness and Genetic Quality in Fur Seals.” The sense of smell and an animal’s scent is an important means of communication in the animal kingdom. This applies not only to social interactions, but also to territorial behavior, recognizing kin, and selecting a mate. However, understanding communication by smell is very challenging because of the mixture of chemicals on an animal’s skin. The odor emitted may be affected by hormones, the microbial flora, body condition and health, and environmental factors. A team of scientists from the Bielefeld University and the British Antarctic Survey sampled the skin and fur from dozens of mothers and their pups from two different fur seal colonies on the breeding beaches at Bird Island Research Station near the sub Antarctic Island of South Georgia. They found the scent of mothers and pups had similar characteristics. Dr. Martin Stoffel, lead author from Bielefeld University says: “Our results are surprising for a marine animal that spends more than 80% of its time at sea. They show that fur seal pups smell similar to their mothers, as many of the chemicals on their skin are shared and genetically encoded.
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