Ultrasonic measurement of blubber thickness of the southern elephant seal, mirounga-leonina (Linn)

  • Gales N
  • Burton H
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Ultrasound measurements of subcutaneous fat at 18 body sites on each of 23 southern elephant seals Mirounga leonina (Linn.), together with circumference and length measurements, were used to estimate the total subcutaneous blubber weight on each animal. Twelve cows (including animals that were pregnant and others at early. mid., late and post-lactation), 10 males and one male pup were anaesthetised for these measurements, made at Heard I. (5300\'S.,73'32yE.) on various dates in October and November 1985. Comparison of the estimates of blubber weight from cows at various stages of lactation allowed a mean blubber loss of 62-8 kg per cow per lactation to be calculated. It is suggested that measuring variations in the subcutaneous fat reserves of cows coming ashore to pup at Heard I. may be one relevant approach in any future research that attempts to explain the 60% drop in pup production at that island between 1949 and 1985. The use of ultrasound to estimate the subcutaneous fat reserves of seals was shown to be a safe, non-invasive and logistically practical technique.

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  • Nicholas J. Gales

  • H. R. Burton

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