, Volume 192, Issue 8, pp 833-843
Date: 30 Mar 2006

Visual pigments of marine carnivores: pinnipeds, polar bear, and sea otter

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Abstract

Rod and cone visual pigments of 11 marine carnivores were evaluated. Rod, middle/long-wavelength sensitive (M/L) cone, and short-wavelength sensitive (S) cone opsin (if present) sequences were obtained from retinal mRNA. Spectral sensitivity was inferred through evaluation of known spectral tuning residues. The rod pigments of all but one of the pinnipeds were similar to those of the sea otter, polar bear, and most other terrestrial carnivores with spectral peak sensitivities (λmax) of 499 or 501 nm. Similarly, the M/L cone pigments of the pinnipeds, polar bear, and otter had inferred λmax of 545 to 560 nm. Only the rod opsin sequence of the elephant seal had sensitivity characteristic of adaptation for vision in the marine environment, with an inferred λmax of 487 nm. No evidence of S cones was found for any of the pinnipeds. The polar bear and otter had S cones with inferred λmax of ∼440 nm. Flicker-photometric ERG was additionally used to examine the in situ sensitivities of three species of pinniped. Despite the use of conditions previously shown to evoke cone responses in other mammals, no cone responses could be elicited from any of these pinnipeds. Rod photoreceptor responses for all three species were as predicted by the genetic data.