, Volume 159, Issue 2, pp 153-158

Blood viscosity in phocid seals: possible adaptations to diving

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Summary

  1. Mean corpuscular volume (MCV) and mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC) of phocid seal red blood cells (RBC) are elevated compared to those of most terrestrial mammalian species. The influence of these characteristics on blood flow was revealed by viscosity (VIS) measurements.

  2. RBC morphology and VIS of whole blood from 7 harbor seals and 5 northern elephant seals were compared with blood of the domestic pig. Samples were analysed for RBC count, white blood cell (WBC) count, total plasma proteins, hematocrit (HCT), MCV and MCHC. Viscosity measurements were made at shear rates from 11.5 to 230.4 s−1 on a Wells-Brookfield cone-plate viscometer at 37°C.

  3. Mean values for HCT (%), MCV (μm3) and MCHC (%) were, respectively: elephant seal: 57, 176, 44; harbour seal: 53, 105, 38; domestic pig: 28, 54, 34. Pig blood was reconstituted to match seal blood HCTs. VIS determinations showed that seal and pig blood conform to the general mammalian dependence of VIS upon shear rate and HCT.

  4. Seal blood VIS was 28% (harbour seal) and 16% (elephant seal) less than pig blood VIS at low shear (P<0.05). Seal blood carried more hemoglobin per unit volume than did pig blood reconstituted to the same HCT. Fewer, larger RBC with higher MCHC, and hence elevated oxygen storage, accompanied by reduced VIS and reduced flow resistance near stasis suggests that this feature of phocid seal blood is an adaptation to circulatory redistribution during long dives.