At the moment twelve harbour seals, two sea lions and a fur seal are taking part in our scientific experiments at the Marine Science Center. Nine harbour seals, the fur seal, and the two sea lions are old hands whereas three harbour seals are new members of our research group. With harbour seals and a fur seal/sea lions living at the Marine Science Center two representatives of the two seal families, the phocid and otariid seals, are available for research which offers numerous possibilities for comparison of their respective sensory and cognitive abilities. These comparisons are interesting as the two families differ in morphology, their adaptation to the aquatic environment, the dependence on the terrestrial habitat, as well as their general behaviour and ecology.
All seals at the Marine Science Center are males which were born in different zoos. We decided to work with just one sex in order to avoid breeding as the pups would have to be given to other facilities in most cases. By keeping a social group we would also risk being unable to conduct experiments in the summer months due to the seals being completely focused on reproduction. Keeping a group of males furthermore resembles the natural reproductive behaviour of harbour seals more than a harem as their reproductive biology is based on female choice.