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J Comp Physiol B. 2003 Apr;173(3):247-61. Epub 2003 Mar 8.

High concentrations of isovaleric acid in the fats of odontocetes: variation and patterns of accumulation in blubber vs. stability in the melon.

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Duke University Marine Laboratory, 135 Duke Marine Lab Road, Beaufort, NC 28516, USA.


Isovaleric acid (iso5:0) is an unusual fatty acid that is important for echolocation and hearing in acoustic tissues of some odontocetes, but its functional significance in blubber is unknown. We examined patterns of accumulation of this compound in blubber in 30 species of odontocetes ( n=299). Iso5:0 concentrations in blubber varied with phylogeny, ontogeny and body topography. Iso5:0 accumulated in greater quantities in superficial/outer blubber than in deep/inner blubber. In the outer blubber of northern right whale and Hector's dolphins, iso5:0 accounted for one-third to one-half of all fatty acids. Total blubber burden of iso5:0 in harbour porpoises represented up to 15 times the amount deposited in the melon. The composition of the melon does not change during starvation in harbour porpoises, supporting the hypothesis that lipids in melon are conserved for a specific function. Some odontocetes continually deposit iso5:0 in blubber after levels in melon have reached asymptotic levels, suggesting independent control of iso5:0 synthesis and storage in these compartments. Dolphins and porpoises inhabiting cold waters possess higher concentrations of iso5:0 in their outer blubber layers than species from warmer regions. We propose that this relationship represents an adaptive secondary role for iso5:0 in maintaining blubber flexibility in cold environments.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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