Body condition at weaning affects the duration of the postweaning fast in gray seal pups (Halichoerus grypus)
Noren, Shawn R.
Boness, Daryl J.
Iverson, Sara J.
Bowen, W. Don
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Gray seals (Halichoerus grypus) undergo a terrestrial postweaning fast (PWF) that depletes energy reserves acquired during the suckling interval. Plasticity in PWF duration may ensure that pups of variable body condition depart for sea with adequate energy reserves. To test this hypothesis, we examined body condition of 30 gray seal pups at weaning and monitored their PWF duration. On average, fat accounted for 47.3% +/- 0.7% of their 53.2 +/- 1.3-kg weaning mass. Although fasting duration averaged 21 +/- 1.1 d (n = 28), there was considerable variation in fasting duration (9 to >31 d) and the resulting age when pups departed to sea (26 to >49 d). Percent fat at weaning (38.6%-54.6%) was positively correlated with fasting duration (n = 28, r = 0.376, P = 0.0489). In contrast, total body gross energy (735.3-1,447.4 MJ) and body mass (39.0-66.0 kg) were not correlated with fasting duration. Thus, body composition, not overall body reserves, predicted fasting duration, but the effect was weak, indicating that other factors also account for the observed variation in fasting duration. We speculate that pups with greater percent fat more effectively utilized lipid and conserved protein while meeting metabolic costs throughout the PWF. As a result, fatter pups extended the PWF duration, which may be critical for development of diving physiology and may have facilitated their survivorship to age 1.
Noren, Shawn R., Daryl J. Boness, Sara J. Iverson, Jim McMillan, et al. 2008. "Body condition at weaning affects the duration of the postweaning fast in gray seal pups (Halichoerus grypus)." Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 81(3): 269-277. Copyright © 2008 The University of Chicago Press.