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J Comp Physiol B. 1996;166(7):405-11.

Energy intake and utilisation by nursing bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus) pups from Svalbard, Norway.

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  • 1Norwegian Polar Institute, Tromsø, Norway.


In this study we measure energy intake via milk in nursing bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus) pups and determine how this energy is allocated into metabolism and storage of new tissues. This was accomplished using longitudinal mass gain records and the doubly labelled water technique on nursing pups in combination with cross-sectional data on changes in milk composition from bearded seal mothers. The pups (n = 3) were all less than a week old at the start of the experiments. Pups gained 3.3 +/- 0.4 of which 50% was fat, 14% protein and 36% water. Average daily water influx for the pups was 69.5 +/- 9.0 day-1. Average CO2 production during the study period was 0.99 +/- 0.10 ml.g-1.h-1, which corresponds to a field metabolic rate of 642 +/- 67 day-1, or 6.0 +/- 0.5 times the predicted basal metabolic rate according to Kleiber (1975). The pups drank an average of 7.6 +/- 0.5 kg of milk daily. This corresponds to a daily energy intake of 154 +/- 8 MJ, 47 +/- 14% of which was stored as new body tissue. Despite this high energy intake bearded seal pups do not get as fat as do other nursing phocids. This is in part due to their larger body size but also due to their very active aquatic lifestyle and the lower and more consistent fat content of the milk compared to other phocid species. Bearded seal mothers forage during lactation and may also be involved in teaching their pups to feed independently. All these data suggest that the lactation strategy of bearded seals differs from the phocid norm.

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