May 27, 2024

Comparative Muscle Physiology of Ringed (Pusa hispida), Bearded (Erignathus barbatus), and Spotted (Phoca largha) Seals from the Bering and Chukchi Seas


Mariah L. Tengler, Jennifer Dearolf, Anna L. Bryan, Colleen Reichmuth, and Nicole M. Thometz


Document: Article

Abstract: The physiological properties of marine mammal skeletal muscle are foundational in defining diving and foraging capacities. Further, these parameters can be useful when assessing the behavioral flexibility of species faced with environmental change or disturbance. Herein, we define species- and age-specific muscle physiology for three ice-associated seal species experiencing Arctic warming. Specifically, we evaluated myoglobin content ([Mb]), nonbicarbonate buffering capacity (β), and fiber type profiles of a major locomotor muscle, the longissimus dorsi. Muscle samples were obtained from subsistence harvested ringed (Pusa hispida; n = 11), bearded (Erignathus barbatus; n = 41), and spotted (Phoca largha; n = 12) seals of all ages in the Bering and Chukchi Seas. Adult ringed seals had the highest [Mb] (6.67 ± 0.20 g 100 g wet tissue-1), followed by spotted (5.38 ± 0.29 g 100 g wet tissue-1) and bearded (4.55 ± 0.07 g 100 g wet tissue-1) seals. [Mb] increased with age for all species, but rates of increase differed by species. In contrast, β was similar for all species and age classes. We documented higher proportions of fast-twitch relative to slow-twitch fibers in these species, and fiber type proportions did not differ significantly with age. Adult bearded seals exhibited the greatest proportion of fast-twitch fibers (68.7 ± 1.5%), followed by ringed (59.0 ± 4.8%) and spotted (55.1 ± 2.1%) seals. Overall, our data suggest a strong link between muscle physiology, diving behavior, and life history strategies, and provide insight into the physiological capacities of these potentially vulnerable species.

Key Words: phocids, myoglobin, buffering capacity, fast-twitch, slow-twitch, fiber type

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1578/AM.50.3.2024.181

Page Numbers: 181-198

Tengler et al. is Open Access: Click here for PDF

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