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Rapid maturation of the muscle biochemistry that supports diving in Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens)

October 27, 2015

Physiological constraints dictate animals’ ability to exploit habitats. For marine mammals, it is important to quantify physiological limits that influence diving and their ability to alter foraging behaviors. We characterized age-specific dive limits of walruses by measuring anaerobic (acid-buffering capacity) and aerobic (myoglobin content) capacities of the muscles that power hind (longissimus dorsi) and fore (supraspinatus) flipper propulsion. Mean buffering capacities were similar across muscles and age classes (a fetus, five neonatal calves, a 3 month old and 20 adults), ranging from 41.31 to 54.14 slykes and 42.00 to 46.93 slykes in the longissimus and supraspinatus, respectively. Mean myoglobin in the fetus and neonatal calves fell within a narrow range (longissimus: 0.92–1.68 g 100 g−1 wet muscle mass; supraspinatus: 0.88–1.64 g 100 g−1 wet muscle mass). By 3 months post-partum, myoglobin in the longissimus increased by 79%, but levels in the supraspinatus remained unaltered. From 3 months post-partum to adulthood, myoglobin increased by an additional 26% in the longissimus and increased by 126% in the supraspinatus; myoglobin remained greater in the longissimus compared with the supraspinatus. Walruses are unique among marine mammals because they are born with a mature muscle acid-buffering capacity and attain mature myoglobin content early in life. Despite rapid physiological development, small body size limits the diving capacity of immature walruses and extreme sexual dimorphism reduces the diving capacity of adult females compared with adult males. Thus, free-ranging immature walruses likely exhibit the shortest foraging dives while adult males are capable of the longest foraging dives.

Publication Year 2015
Title Rapid maturation of the muscle biochemistry that supports diving in Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens)
DOI 10.1242/jeb.125757
Authors Shawn R. Norem, Chadwick V. Jay, Jennifer M. Burns, Anthony S. Fischbach
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Experimental Biology
Index ID 70159398
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Biology MFEB