Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover (TiHo)

Male grey seal commits fatal sexual interaction with adult female harbour seals in the German Wadden Sea

Rohner, Simon; Hülskötter, Kirsten; Gross, Stephanie ORCID; Wohlsein, Peter ORCID; Abdulmawjood, Amir GND; Plötz, Madeleine; Verspohl, Jutta; Haas, Ludwig GND; Siebert, Ursula GND

Males of several seal species are known to show aggressive copulating behaviour, which can lead to injuries to or suffocation of females. In the North Sea, grey seal predation on harbour seals including sexual harassment is documented and represents violent interspecific interaction. In this case series, we report pathological and molecular/genetic findings of 11 adult female harbour seals which were found dead in Schleswig–Holstein, Germany, within 41 days. Several organs of all animals showed haemorrhages and high loads of bacteria, indicating their septic spread. All females were pregnant or had recently been pregnant. Abortion was confirmed in three cases. Lacerations were seen in the uterus and vagina in six cases, in which histology of three individuals revealed severe suppurative inflammation with intralesional spermatozoa. Molecular analysis of vaginal swabs and paraffin-embedded samples of the vagina identified grey seal DNA, suggesting violent interspecific sexual interaction with fatal outcome due to septicaemia. This is the first report of female harbour seals dying after coercive copulation by a male grey seal in the Wadden Sea.

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