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Fatty acid mobilization and comparison to milk fatty acid content in northern elephant seals
Fowler, A; Debier, C.; Mignolet, E.; Linard, C.; Crocker, E; Costa, P (2014). Fatty acid mobilization and comparison to milk fatty acid content in northern elephant seals. J. Comp. Physiol. (B Biochem. Syst. Environ. Physiol.) 184(1): 125-135.
In: Journal of comparative physiology. Part B. Biochemical, systemic, and environmental physiology. Springer: Heidelberg; Berlin. ISSN 0174-1578; e-ISSN 1432-136X, more
Peer reviewed article  

Available in  Authors 
    VLIZ: Open Repository 274953 [ OMA ]

    Mammalia [WoRMS]; Mirounga angustirostris Gill, 1866 [WoRMS]
Author keywords
    Marine mammal; Lactation; Fasting; Fatty acids; Lipolysis

Authors  Top 
  • Fowler, M.
  • Debier, C., more
  • Mignolet, E., more
  • Linard, C., more
  • Crocker, D.
  • Costa, D.

    A fundamental feature of the life history of true seals, bears and baleen whales is lactation while fasting. This study examined the mobilization of fatty acids from blubber and their subsequent partitioning into maternal metabolism and milk production in northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris). The fatty acid composition of blubber and milk was measured in both early and late lactation. Proportions of fatty acids in milk and blubber were found to display a high degree of similarity both early and late in lactation. Seals mobilized an enormous amount of lipid (~66 kg in 17 days), but thermoregulatory fatty acids, those that remain fluid at low temperatures, were relatively conserved in the outer blubber layer. Despite the stratification, the pattern of mobilization of specific fatty acids conforms to biochemical predictions. Long chain (>20C) monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) were the least mobilized from blubber and the only class of fatty acids that showed a proportional increase in milk in late lactation. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and saturated fatty acids (SFAs) were more mobilized from the blubber, but neither proportion increased in milk at late lactation. These data suggest that of the long chain MUFA mobilized, the majority is directed to milk synthesis. The mother may preferentially use PUFA and SFA for her own metabolism, decreasing the availability for deposition into milk. The potential impacts of milk fatty acid delivery on pup diving development and thermoregulation are exciting avenues for exploration.

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