Depressed metabolism and low protein catabolism in fasting grey seal pups

Acta Physiol Scand. 1990 Jun;139(2):361-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-1716.1990.tb08935.x.


Grey seal pups (Halichoerus grypus) were collected at the time of weaning (mid-October) and fasted for 52 days at thermoneutrality in separate cages. Body weight decreased exponentially, while metabolic rate dropped 45% from an average of 2.95 +/- 0.15 (SEM) W kg-1 at day 2 of fasting to a stable level of 1.62 +/- 0.06 (SEM) W kg-1 from day 10 to day 47 of fasting. Respiratory quotient was low, indicating extensive catabolism of triglycerides, while plasma cortisol was fairly stable at 110 +/- 8 (SEM) nmol l-1 throughout the fasting period. Daily urinary output decreased from 236 +/- 20 (SEM) ml day-1 at day 2 to a stable value of 87 +/- 6 (SEM) ml day-1 between days 8 and 50 of fasting. The urine was analysed for urea, uric acid, creatinine, ammonia, total nitrogen and osmolality. Urea was always the principal excretory end-product, amounting to between 70 and 80% of the total excreted nitrogen. The urine was moderately concentrated (range 770-1300 mosmol kg-1). Total excreted urinary nitrogen decreased by 68% from 3.7 +/- 0.7 (SEM) g day-1 to 1.2 +/- 0.4 (SEM) g day-1 between days 2 and 50. The urinary nitrogen was used to calculate the daily amount of protein being oxidized and its energy content was compared with the measured basal metabolic rate of individual animals. Approximately 6% of the energy expended by grey seal pups during the post-weaning fast is derived from oxidation of protein. It is concluded that a rapid depression of basal metabolic rate and extensive blubber catabolism enable grey seal pups to endure prolonged periods of fasting without any apparent signs of discomfort or stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Basal Metabolism
  • Body Weight
  • Caniformia / metabolism*
  • Diuresis
  • Fasting
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Nitrogen / urine
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • Seals, Earless / blood
  • Seals, Earless / metabolism*
  • Seals, Earless / urine
  • Weaning


  • Proteins
  • Nitrogen
  • Hydrocortisone