Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 165, Issue 1, pp 1–12

Prenatal and postnatal transfer of fatty acids from mother to pup in the hooded seal

  • S. J. Iverson
  • O. T. Oftedal
  • W. D. Bowen
  • D. J. Boness
  • J. Sampugna
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/BF00264680

Cite this article as:
Iverson, S.J., Oftedal, O.T., Bowen, W.D. et al. J Comp Physiol B (1995) 165: 1. doi:10.1007/BF00264680


Unlike most mammals, hooded seal (Cystophora cristata) pups are born with a substantial layer of adipose tissue. Subsequently, during the brief lactation period of only 4 days, fasting mothers mobilize enormous amounts of lipid from blubber and secrete milk (60% fat) at rates of 10 kg·day-1. Pups gain 7 kg·day-1 due primarily to the deposition of fat in blubber. We measured blubber content and fatty acid composition of blubber and milk in hooded seal mother-pup pairs at birth and over the 4-day lactation period to examine the nature and source of fetal lipids, the incorporation of maternal blubber fatty acids into milk lipid, and patterns of fatty acid deposition in suckling young. The fatty acid composition of the blubber of the newborn was notably different from that of its mother. Fetal deposition was likely due to a combination of both fetal synthesis and direct placental transfer of maternal circulating fatty acids. The blubber of the newborn was characterized by high levels (>90% of total fatty acids) of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids of primarily endogenous origin. In particular, the fetus appeared to have high Δ-9 desaturase activity as evidenced by the large amounts of 14:1n-5 (4.2%) and 16:1n-7 (37.0%) in newborn blubber compared to maternal blubber (0.2% and 14.1%, respectively). Nevertheless, essential and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids of the n-3 and n-6 families, which could only have originated by direct transfer from the mother, comprised>7% of pup blubber fatty acids and indicated greater rates of placental transfer than found in humans. In hooded seal mothers, rapid lipid transfer during the brief lactation period appeared to be facilitated by direct incorporation of mobilized fatty acids into milk. Although some differences in proportions of specific fatty acids were found between milk and maternal blubber, most of these differences declined over the course of lactation. However, selective mobilization of 20:5n-3 from maternal blubber into milk was apparent throughout lactation and resulted in elevated levels in pup blubber at weaning compared to maternal blubber. Ingested fatty acids were deposited directly and without modification into the blubber of pups, and by 4 days the fatty acid composition of pup blubber was virtually identical to that of the milk consumed.

Key words

Placental transfer Lactation Fatty acids Adipose tissue Hooded seal Cystophora 



butylated hydroxytoluene


body mass


essential fatty acid(s)


lipoprotein lipase


monounsaturated fatty acid(s)


Polyunsaturated fatty acid(s)


saturated fatty acid(s)

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. J. Iverson
    • 1
    • 2
  • O. T. Oftedal
    • 2
  • W. D. Bowen
    • 3
  • D. J. Boness
    • 2
  • J. Sampugna
    • 4
  1. 1.Canadian Institute of Fisheries TechnologyTechnical University of Nova ScotiaHalifaxCanada
  2. 2.Department of Zoological Rescarch, National Zoological ParkSmithsonian InstitutionWashington, D.C.USA
  3. 3.Marine Fish DivisionBedford Institute of OceanographyDartmouthCanada
  4. 4.Department of Chemistry and BiochemistryUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  5. 5.Department of BiologyDalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada