Recognition of individuals or classes of individuals plays an important role in the communication systems of many mammals. The ability of otariid (i.e., fur seal and sea lion) females to locate and identify their offspring in colonies after returning from regular foraging trips is essential to successful pup rearing. It has been shown that olfaction is used to confirm the identity of the pup by the mother when they reunite, yet the processes by which this chemical recognition occurs remain unclear. Using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, we examined chemical profiles of integumentary and glandular secretions/excretions from pre- and post-molt Australian sea lion pups (Neophoca cinerea) and compared fur and swab samples to assess data collection methods. Multivariate statistics were applied to assess differences in chemical composition between body regions and sexes. We found differences among secretions from various body regions, driven by the distinctiveness of the oral odor mixture. The fine-scale trends in pre- and post-molt pups seem to differ due to changes in the behavior of pups and consequent decrease in the transfer of compounds among adjacent body regions in older pups. Volatile compounds from exocrine substrates were not distinct for different sexes. We also show that swab samples provide better data for exploring social olfaction than fur samples for this species. Obtaining fundamental chemical information, in this case chemical profiles of animals, and discerning differences in chemical composition is an important step toward fully exploring the intricacies of mother-offspring olfactory recognition and its underlying processes.
- chemical communication
- gas chromatography–mass spectrometry
- marine mammals
- mother–offspring recognition
- olfactory recognition