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Harbor Seal Pups - Diving Into Rehab

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Published on Jan 1, 2016

Amber Thomas, University of New England
Parker Young, Unbox Science

Summary: Mammals need oxygen (O2) to make energy. If you hold your breath, your body uses the O2 stored inside to keep working. Harbor seals hold their breath when they hunt underwater, so the more O2 they store inside, the longer they can hunt. Pups begin diving with their mom early in life to help their body grow large red blood cells (RBC) for O2 storage. But if moms and pups are separated, the pup may need to visit a wildlife rehab center. We investigated how the RBC and diving activity of 21 pups in rehab changed over time to see if rehab impacts pup’s O2 storage growth. We found that rehab pups still have lots of RBC, the cells just grow slower and smaller than those in wild pups. But, we still saw lots of diving in rehab! The difference was in individuals; pups that made lots of long dives had bigger RBC than the non-divers, making them more prepared for a life of underwater hunting.

Original Publication: Thomas, A, Ono, K. 2015. PLoS ONE 10:e0128930 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0128930

Link to Publication:journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0128930

Support Provided by: University of New England Graduate Student Fund

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