, Volume 90, Issue 11, pp 528–531 | Cite as

Isovaleric acid accumulation in odontocete melon during development

Short Communication


Biosonar in odontocetes is a highly complex process for gathering information about the surrounding environment. The forehead melon lipid and mandibular lipid tissues, which comprise the region known as the acoustical window for cetacean sound production and reception, have a unique biochemical composition that is made up of unusual fatty deposits rich in isovaleric acid. Although the structure of these acoustical lipids was elucidated three decades ago, little work has been done to determine their origin during cetacean development. The objective of this research was to examine development of the acoustical region by characterizing the accumulation of isovaleroyl lipids throughout cetacean early life stages. Biochemical analyses of melon tissue of Phocoena phocoena and Tursiops truncatus of different sizes (as an indicator of age) demonstrated that the proportion of isovalerate increased significantly with length. These results indicate that the acoustic system is not fully developed at birth and that its biochemical structure changes throughout development.



This study would not have been possible without the generous contribution of tissue samples from John Nicolas (NEFSC), Wayne McFee (SEFSC), and Howard Braham, Jack Ceaserone, and Rich Ferrero (NMML of NMFS). The project was greatly improved by contributions made by William Nilsson and the assistance of the NWFSC’s Marine Mammal Team, Tom Hom, Sylvester Spencer and Karen Tilbury, and the technical support provided by Jo Ann Lund with the GC analyses, Hoa Dung with the Iatroscan work, and Samuel Chávez Rosales and Paul Tontz. This research was performed while S.C. Gardner held a National Research Council–NWFSC Research Associateship.


  1. Ackman RG (1981) Flame ionization detection applied to thin-layer chromatography on coated quartz rods. Methods Enzymol 72:205–252PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Au WWL (1993) The sonar of dolphins. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Au WWL, Floyd RW, Penner RH, Murchison AE (1974) Measurement of echolocation signals of the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus Montagu, in open waters. J Acoust Soc Am 56:1280–1290PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Daugherty AE (1979) Marine mammals of California, 3rd edn. California Sea Grant College Program, Los Angeles, Calif.Google Scholar
  5. Geraci JR, Lounsbury VL (1993) Marine mammals ashore; a field guide for strandings. Texas A&M Sea Grant, College Station, Tex.Google Scholar
  6. Howard CJ (1995) Dolphin chronicles. Bantam, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  7. Krahn MM, Ylitalo GM, Buzitis J, Sloan CA, Boyd DT, Chan SL, Varanasi U (1994) Screening for planar chlorobiphenyl congeners in tissues of marine biota by high-performance liquid chromatography with photodiode array detection. Chemosphere 29:117–139CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Lindhard M (1988) Apparent sonar clicks from a captive bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus when 2, 7, and 38 weeks old. In: Nachtigall PE, Moore PWB (eds) Animal sonar processes and performance. (NATO ASI series A, vol 156) Plenum, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Malins DC, Varanasi U (1975) Cetacean biosonar. II. The biochemistry of lipids and acoustic tissues. Biochem Biophys Perspect Mar Biol 2:237–289Google Scholar
  10. McCowan B, Reiss D (1995) Whistle contour development in captive-born infant bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus): role of learning. J Comp Psychology 109:242–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Moss CF (1988) Ontogeny of vocal signals in the big brown bat, Eptesicus fuscus. In: Nachtigall PE, Moore PWB (eds) Animal sonar processes and performance. (NATO ASI series A, vol 156) Plenum, New York, pp 109–113Google Scholar
  12. Norris KS, Harvey GW (1974) Sound transmission in the porpoise head. J Acoust Soc Am 56:659–664PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Norris KS, Prescott JH, Asa-Dorian PV, Perkins P (1961) An experimental demonstration of echolocation behavior in the porpoise, Tursiops truncatus (Montagu). Biol Bull 120:163–176Google Scholar
  14. Read AJ, Wells RS, Hohn AA, Scott MD (1993) Patterns of growth in wild bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus. J Zool Lond 231:107–123Google Scholar
  15. Reiss D (1988) Observations on the development of echolocation in young bottlenose dolphins. In: Nachtigall PE, Moore PWB (eds) Animal sonar processes and performance. (NATO ASI series A, vol 156) Plenum, New York, pp 121–127Google Scholar
  16. Tyack PL, Sayigh LS (1989) Those dolphins aren’t just whistling in the dark. Oceanus 32:80–83Google Scholar
  17. Varanasi U, Malins DC (1970) Ester and ether-linked lipids in the mandibular canal of a porpoise (Phocoena phocoena): occurrence of isovaleric acid in glycerolipids. Biochemistry 9:4576–4579PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Varanasi U, Malins DC (1972) Triacylglycerols characteristic of porpoise acoustic tissues: molecular structures of diisovaleroylglycerides. Science 176:926–928PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Watkins WA, Moore KE, Clark CW, Dahlheim ME (1988) The sounds of sperm whale calves. In: Nachtigall PE, Moore PWB (eds) Animal sonar processes and performance. (NATO ASI series A, vol 156) Plenum, New York, pp 99–107Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Northwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries ServicesNational Oceanographic and Atmospheric AdministrationSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas del NoroesteBaja California Sur Mexico

Personalised recommendations