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Variation in the fatty acid composition of the blubber in Cape fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus) and the implications for dietary interpretation
journal contributionposted on 2005-05-01, 00:00 authored by John ArnouldJohn Arnould, M Nelson, P Nichols, W Oosthuizen
Analysis of the fatty acid (FA) composition of blubber is a valuable tool in interpreting the diet of marine mammals. This technique is based on the principle that particular FA present in prey can be incorporated largely untransformed into predator adipose tissue stores, thereby providing biochemical signatures with which to identify prey species. Several studies of phocid seals and cetaceans have documented vertical stratification in the FA composition of blubber such that inferences about diet may vary greatly depending on the layer of the blubber that is analysed. It is not known whether blubber in otariid seals (fur seals and sea lions) also displays vertical stratification in FA composition. Furthermore, it is not known whether the FA composition of blubber is uniform in these species. In the present study, the vertical and regional variation in FA composition of blubber was investigated in seven adult female Cape fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus). The proportion of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) was greater in the outer (43.6±1.3%) than inner portion (40.9±1.2%; t20=5.59, P<0.001) whereas the proportions were greater in the inner than outer portions for saturated fatty acids (23.6±0.5% and 21.9±0.6%, respectively, t20 = 5.31, P<0.001) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA, 35.5±0.7% and 34.5±0.7%, respectively, t20 = 3.81, P < 0.001). There was an inverse relationship between MUFA and PUFA in the blubber, independent of sampling location. In addition, with the exception of the inner portion from non-lactating females, blubber from the mammary area had the highest proportions of 18:1ω9c and total MUFA, followed by blubber from the rump and neck, suggesting that the deposition and mobilisation of blubber lipids may not be uniform around the body in otariid seals. These results support the need for blubber tissue to be sampled from the same site on animals, and to the full depth of the blubber layer, to minimise variation in FA profiles that could occur if different sites and depths were sampled. Such standardisation of sampling will further aid in interpreting diet in otariid seals using the FA Signature Analysis approach.