Several of the posters and talks at the Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego focused on Weddell Seals. They are not only cute, they are really interesting physiologically.Emma Weitzner, a graduate student in the lab of Dr. Heather Liwanag, presented a poster on Weddell seals, which are studied as models of the physiology of diving. Emma and her team recorded diving behavior and collected blood samples from 1 week-old Weddell seal pups as they practiced diving. Not surprisingly, they found that the time seal pups spent in the water as well as the number of dives per day increased over a 6 week span. At the same time, the oxygen-carrying capacity of the pup’s blood also increased as evidenced by more red blood cells.
Dr. Linnea Pearson, a postdoctoral fellow working in the same lab, presented her research on how seal pups develop their ability to protect body temperature (and therefore avoid heat loss) by 5 weeks old.
Kaitlin Allen, from the University of California – Berkeley, also studied Weddell Seals. Her research was focused on aging. She found that although older and younger animals did not differ with respect to oxidative stress, older seals had less cellular breakdown compared to younger animals. In addition, the older seals had more antioxidants.