LONDON (Reuters) - Choosy Antarctic female fur seals go to great lengths to find the right mate.
While males prefer to stay put and wait to be chosen, females are more selective and prepared to travel to find an ideal, genetically diverse partner to father their pups.
"Many mammals have mating systems that were traditionally viewed as being dominated by males fighting each other for the right to mate with passive females," said Dr Joe Hoffman of the University of Cambridge.
"So it's not only remarkable to find that female fur seals are choosy, but this also suggests that female choice may be more widespread in nature than we previously thought."
Hoffman and scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), who reported their findings in the science journal Nature on Wednesday, discovered the unusual mating patterns while studying a colony of the seals on the island of South Georgia.
To avoid inbreeding with the less adventurous males, female seals would travel up to 35 metres (yards) to find a fitter mate to give the next generation the best chance of surviving.
Hoffman and his team believe the females size up potential mates by assessing their physique, behaviour and even their smell.
"The behaviours that we observe will impact upon the genetic diversity of fur seal populations and may have helped them recover so successfully from near extinction only 100 years ago," said Hoffman.
"This could in turn affect how well they respond to future challenges such as climate change," he added in a statement.