Summary. Lactation strategies in the two largest families of seals have been characterized as a phylogenetic dichotomy, with sea lions and fur seals (Otariidae) exhibiting foraging cycles and true seals (Phocidae) a strategy of fasting. We show that a lactating phocid, the harbor seal, Phoca vitulina, has a foraging cycle similar to that of otariids. Time-depth recorders attached to lactating harbor seal mothers revealed that 9 of 11 females began bouts of diving, averaging 1240m, by mid-lactation (12 days). During the remainder of lactation, females made an average of seven diving trips, lasting about 7h. They returned to the rookery during the interval between successive bouts to nurse their pups. Diving was more frequent during daylight than at night and diving bouts increased in duration as lactation progressed. The diving behavior of females that had weaned their pups and previously collected data from stomach lavage, suggest that the bouts of diving represent successful foraging. We propose that the lactation strategy of the harbor seal is intermediate to that of the otariids and other phocids studied. The harbor seal has a foraging cycle like the otariids, but typically resembles other phocids in length of lactation, rate of mass gain in pups, and in milk fat content. As harbor seals are among the smallest phocids, and only slightly larger than most otariids, it seems likely that maternal size constrains the amount of stored energy harbor seal females can bring to the rookery, forcing them to start feeding during the lactation period.
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