How are trace elements mobilized during the postweaning fast in northern elephant seals?
Northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) pups undergo a substantial intertissue reorganization of protein, minerals, and other cellular components during their postweaning development, which might entail the mobilization of associated contaminants.The authors investigated the changes in concentrations of 11 elements (Ca, Cd, Cr, Cu, Fe, Hg, Ni, Pb, Se, V, and Zn) in a longitudinal study on 22 northern elephant seal pups during the postweaning fast. Slight changes in most element concentrations were observed in blood throughout the fast. Circulating levels of Hg, Se, and Cu appeared less altered during the postweaning fast than during suckling (previously measured). Despite the considerable fat utilization, element concentrations in blubber remained stable throughout the fast (except Fe), which suggests that elements are mobilized from blubber as efficiently as lipids. As indicators of the placental transfer, concentrations in lanugo hair revealed the existence of maternal transfer and accumulation of all assayed trace elements during fetal development. In addition, the new pelage, rapidly produced after weaning, appeared to be an important elimination route for toxic metals like Hg, Cd, and Pb. The high mineral content detected in pup hair suggests that this species would be more exposed to trace elements than other phocids (except Cd and Pb). This statement needs nevertheless further monitoring and toxicological studies to determine better the exposition to trace elements and its potential impact on the northern elephant seal's health.Keywords: Mirounga angustirostris; Trace element; Postweaning fast; Blood, Hair Environ. Toxicol. Chem. © 2012 SETAC