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Physiol Biochem Zool. 2005 Jul-Aug;78(4):482-90. Epub 2005 May 24.

Development of the blood and muscle oxygen stores in gray seals (Halichoerus grypus): implications for juvenile diving capacity and the necessity of a terrestrial postweaning fast.

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  • 1Conservation and Research Center, National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20008, USA.


To successfully transition from nursing to foraging, phocid seal pups must develop adequate diving physiology within the limited time between birth and their first independent foraging trip to sea. We studied the postpartum development of oxygen stores in gray seals (Halichoerus grypus, n=40) to better understand the ontogeny of diving capacity in phocids. Hemoglobin (Hb), hematocrit (Hct), blood volume (BV), and myoglobin (Mb) levels in newborn (3 d postpartum [DPP]) and newly weaned (17+/-0.4 DPP) pups were among the lowest measured across age classes. During the pups' terrestrial postweaning fast (PWF), Hb, Hct, mass-specific BV, and Mb increased by 28%, 21%, 13%, and 29%, respectively, resulting in a 35% increase in total body mass-specific oxygen stores and a 23% increase in calculated aerobic dive limit (CADL). Although Hb and Hct levels at the end of the PWF were nearly identical to those of yearlings, total body mass-specific oxygen stores and CADL of weaned pups departing for sea were only 66%-67% and 32%-62%, respectively, of those for yearlings and adult females. The PWF represents an integral component of the physiological development of diving capacity in phocids; however, newly independent phocids still appear to have limited diving capabilities at the onset of foraging.

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