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Marine Biology

, Volume 151, Issue 1, pp 277–291 | Cite as

Phylogenetic, ecological, and ontogenetic factors influencing the biochemical structure of the blubber of odontocetes

  • Heather N. Koopman
Research Article

Abstract

To explore ecological, phylogenetic, and developmental factors affecting the structure of blubber in Odontocetes (toothed whales), lipid composition of this specialized adipose tissue was determined in 260 specimens (30 species representing all families except the river dolphins), most of which were collected between 1995 and 2005, from all over the world. In most odontocetes, blubber contained primarily triacylglycerols; the blubber of beaked and sperm whales was dominated by wax esters (WE), exhibiting ontogenetic patterns of deposition. WEs may represent an adaptation to deep diving for marine mammals that do not rely on blubber for stored energy. Fatty acid (FA) composition was stratified through blubber depth, with higher concentrations of dietary FA in the inner and endogenous FA in the outer layers of the blubber. Stratification can be considered a characteristic feature of odontocetes, and is likely the result of differential metabolism through the blubber. Small body size appears to constrain blubber lipid content to be high. Thermal habitat also represents an important selective pressure for blubber composition. Species inhabiting colder waters exhibited both higher lipid content and increased FA stratification in blubber, compared to species from warm/tropical habitats. The isolation of mobilization to inner blubber may permit metabolic enzymes to function without limitation by lower temperatures. The variation in composition and distribution of blubber lipids in odontocetes suggests that different species may have evolved slightly diverse arrays of secondary functions for this specialized tissue as adaptations for specific ecological niches.

Keywords

Odontocete Blubber Fatty acid Wax ester Lipid Toothed whale Beaked whale Sperm whale Dolphin Porpoise Beluga Narwhal 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The author wishes to thank many individuals and organizations for their generosity in contributing samples and assisting with sample collection: Bill McLellan and Ann Pabst (University of North Carolina Wilmington); John Nicolas (NMFS, Northeast Fisheries Science Center); Charley Potter, Jim Mead, and Dee Allen (National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution); Thomas Jefferson and Susan Chivers (NMFS, Southwest Fisheries Science Center); Ellie Dickson and Elizabeth Slooten (University of Otago); Koen van Waerebeek and Julio Reyes; and many people from: state stranding networks from Massachusetts to Florida; Virginia Aquarium and Science Center; Hubbs-Sea World, Orlando, Florida; Mote Marine Laboratory, Sarasota, Florida; the Beaufort, North Carolina and Woods Hole, Massachusetts NMFS offices; the Marine Mammal Stranding Network at UNCW; the Duke University Marine Laboratory, Beaufort, North Carolina; the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans; the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station, New Brunswick, Canada; the fishermen of the Bay of Fundy and Gulf of Maine; and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Much of the work carried out in this study was generously supported by Sara Iverson. This manuscript was improved by the comments of Ann Pabst, Sara Iverson, Andy Read, and Andrew Westgate, as well as by discussions with Sue Budge and Ted Cranford; Sue is also thanked for advice with laboratory procedures. All samples were imported into the US and Canada under appropriate and approved Marine Mammal Protection Act, US Fish & Wildlife Service and CITES permits, and all analytical methods complied with current US and Duke University regulations. This study was supported by postgraduate fellowships from the Canadian Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Duke University Marine Laboratory, as well as grants from the Duke University Graduate School and the Nicholas School of the Environment to the author; the University of North Carolina Wilmington; a Duke University Marine/Freshwater Biomedical Center Feasibility Study grant to Andy Read; and NSERC Research and Equipment Grants to Sara Iverson, Dalhousie University.

Supplementary material

227_2006_489_MOESM1_ESM.doc (71 kb)
Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biology & Marine BiologyUniversity of North Carolina WilmingtonWilmingtonUSA

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