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Seasonal differences in physiology of captive steller sea lions (eumetopias jubatus) in response to short-term low energy intake Kumagai, Sacko


Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) were fed restricted iso-caloric amounts of Pacific herring (Clupea pallasi) or walleye pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) for 8-9 days, four times a year. At these levels, the sea lions lost an average of 10.1% of their initial body mass while on both experimental diets for up to nine days, but at a significantly higher rate in winter and at a lower rate in summer. Decreases in body fat mass and standard metabolic rates during the trials were similar throughout the seasons and for both diets. Metabolic depression was not always observed during the trials despite the constant loss of body mass. Changes in Cortisol, triiodothyronine and blood urea nitrogen (BUN) were seasonally dependent. Over the course of the trials, serum levels of Cortisol and BUN increased and total triiodothyronine decreased the most in winter. Serum Cortisol levels correlated negatively with both body mass and body condition suggesting that Cortisol may play an important role in body fat regulation in Steller sea lions. The mean ghrelin level in Steller sea lions correlated negatively with body mass, but ghrelin did not correlate with serum leptin. My findings support the hypothesis that restricted energy intake at different times of the year differentially affects Steller sea lions, and that diet type (herring or pollock) may have seasonally-specific effects on body mass and composition. Steller sea lions may be more severely impacted by reduced energy intake in winter than at other times of the year. Changes in iron binding capacity were significantly greater in the herring-fed group than in the pollock-fed group, and a significantly greater decrease occurred in winter and spring compared to summer and fall. Iron saturation increased in the herring-fed group and decreased in the group fed pollock. These results suggested a potential anemia from a reduced diet of pollock in Steller sea lions. Serum iron, phosphorus, hematocrit and gamma glutamyltransferase showed consistent changes during food restriction, suggesting that these may serve as indicators of nutritional stress in Steller sea lions.

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