Harbor seal pups are highly precocial and can swim and dive at birth. Such behavioral maturity suggests that they may be born with mature body oxygen stores or that stores develop quickly during the nursing period. To test this hypothesis, we compared the blood and muscle oxygen stores of harbor seal pups, yearlings, and adults. We found that pups had smaller oxygen stores than adults (neonates 57%, weaned pups 75%, and yearlings 90% those of adults), largely because neonatal myoglobin concentrations were low (1.6+/-0.2 g% vs. 3.8+/-0.3 g% for adults) and changed little during the nursing period. In contrast, blood oxygen stores were relatively mature, with nursing pups having hematocrit (55%+/-0.2%), hemoglobin (21.7+/-0.4 g%), and blood volume (12.3+/-0.5 mL/kg) only slightly lower than the corresponding values for adults (57%+/-0.2%, 23.8+/-0.3 g %, and 15.0+/-0.5 mL/kg). Because neonatal pups had relatively high metabolic rates (11.0 mL O2/kg min), their calculated aerobic dive limit was less than 50% that of adults. These results suggest that harbor seals' early aquatic activity is primarily supported by rapid development of blood, with immature muscle oxygen stores and elevated use rates limiting aerobic diving ability.
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