Immune status and function in harbor seal pups during the course of rehabilitation

Vet Immunol Immunopathol. 2013 Sep 1;155(1-2):98-109. doi: 10.1016/j.vetimm.2013.06.011. Epub 2013 Jun 20.


Routine hematological and serum chemistry parameters are important tools for the evaluation of health and the treatment of marine mammals admitted to rehabilitation centers. The evaluation of phagocytosis, oxidative burst and immunoglobulin G (IgG), as markers of immune system function, and haptoglobin (Hp), as a stress marker, were evaluated alongside routine hematology and chemistry as potentially informative diagnostic tools for marine mammal health assessments. Blood samples from harbor seal pups (Phoca vitulina) admitted to (n=46), and released from (n=28), the Vancouver Aquarium's Marine Mammal Rescue Center (VAMMRC) were collected (1) to perform routine and novel functional approaches to evaluate the health of pups at admission; (2) to determine how these parameters changed during the rehabilitation process; and (3) to generate baseline values for reference purposes. Sodium was the only blood parameter which differed between seal pups that survived and those that died, with the surviving pups exhibiting higher levels on admission diagnostics. Positive correlations between total protein concentrations, IgG and Hp levels were observed with globulin concentrations of seal pups. Changes in serum chemistry values between admission and release included a decrease in red blood cells (RBCs), glucose, bicarbonate, total bilirubin, γ-glutamyltransferase (GGT) levels, and an increase in mean cell volume (MCV), mean cell hemoglobin (MCH), mean cell hemoglobin concentration (MCHC), lymphocytes, eosinophils, urea, potassium, anion gap, calcium, phosphorus, total protein, albumin, globulin and osmolality levels. During the rehabilitation process, phagocytosis decreased, while Hp levels increased. Age and improved health appeared to underlie changes in these parameters during the rehabilitation period.

Keywords: Harbor seal; Hematology; Phoca vitulina richardsi; Rehabilitation; Serum chemistry; Survival.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • British Columbia
  • Female
  • Haptoglobins / metabolism
  • Immunoglobulin G / blood
  • Male
  • Malnutrition / immunology
  • Malnutrition / rehabilitation
  • Malnutrition / veterinary
  • Phagocytosis
  • Phoca / blood
  • Phoca / immunology*
  • Phoca / injuries
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Respiratory Burst
  • Veterinary Medicine


  • Haptoglobins
  • Immunoglobulin G