UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Enzymatic profiles of skeletal muscles from harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) and fin whales (Balaenoptera physalis) Foreman III, Richard A.


The enzymatic organization of muscle tissue usually is examined in only a select few muscles of any one animal species. However, because the functional demands placed on individual muscles can vary so widely from muscle to muscle, it is inappropriate to generalize findings from one or two muscles to muscle tissue in general. The differences or similarities in metabolic machinery between skeletal muscles of a wide functional range provides crucial information with respect to a particular animals' whole body metabolism. Nowhere is this understanding more important than in the diving marine mammal which must operate as a closed system (with respect to oxygen supply) while submerged. The goals of this thesis are: 1) to provide a broad body of information on the metabolic organization of a large cross-section of marine mammal muscles, both functionally and with regard to location, 2) to assess the implications of the enzyme differences between muscles to the diving habit, and 3) to compare the metabolic organization of skeletal muscle among several species of marine mammal with different diving abilities and habits. A series of 13 enzymes were measured in 21 skeletal muscles of the harbor seal, Phoca vitulina. In addition, 23 enzyme activity ratios were calculated and analyzed for these muscles. A similar analysis of 22 muscles from fin whales, Balaenoptera physalis. was conducted --including 7 key enzymes and 15 activity ratios. Overall, both the maximum activities and the enzyme activity ratios are consistent with the idea that marine mammal muscle is typical mammalian muscle, exhibiting few significant differences from terrestrial species with respect to catabolic enzymes. The only obvious exception to this in the species examined is observed with fin whale locomotory muscle which has extremely high activities of lactate dehydrogenase (over 2000 units/gm wet wt at 25°C) due to an apparent scaling phenomenon. Tight control of this high potential glycolytic flux is indicated by pyruvate kinase activities that scale downward. Comparisons of enzyme relationships between muscles of harbor seals seem to indicate a very aerobically poised metabolic make-up. This is especially true with respiratory and locomotory muscles, which also show a high tendency to utilize fat. This pattern of enzyme activities and activity ratios in the locomotory muscles of harbor seal is evidence that muscle contractile activity while diving is powered primarily through oxidative pathways and largely based on fat as fuel. The majority of non-locomotory muscles appear to be more able to function anaerobically utilizing carbohydrate. This pattern may correlate with circulatory redistributions while diving that preferentially fuel the locomotory muscles with oxygen, leaving the inactive muscles significantly more hypoperfused and, therefore, candidates for energy saving O₂ sparing (metabolic depression). Fin whales exhibit an opposite pattern, with enzyme profiles more typical of "white" muscle. Unlike harbor seals, the locomotory muscles of fin whales are consistently the least oxidatively poised of the muscles examined. This apparently more anaerobic nature of fin whale muscle is possibly complicated by scaling adaptations, but appears to be a real phenomenon. The examination of three to four skeletal muscles from each of three additional phocid seal species from Antarctica, leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx). crab-eater seals (Lobodon carcinophagus). and Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddelli) confirm that the harbor seal pattern of enzyme profiles is fairly consistent among phocid seals. By these criteria skeletal muscles of phocid seals (particularly the locomotory and respiratory muscles) appear to be designed for sustained aerobic metabolism during diving regardless of the habits or diving capabilities of the seal.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.