Milking strategy in subantarctic fur seals Arctocephalus tropicalis breeding on Amsterdam Island: evidence from changes in milk composition.

Physiological and biochemical zoology : PBZ

PubMedID: 11436139

Georges JY, Groscolas R, Guinet C, Robin JP. Milking strategy in subantarctic fur seals Arctocephalus tropicalis breeding on Amsterdam Island: evidence from changes in milk composition. Physiol Biochem Zool. 2001;74(4):548-59.
Milk composition was investigated throughout the 10-mo pup-rearing period in subantarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus tropicalis) breeding on Amsterdam Island. The mean milk composition was 42.8% +/- 5.7% lipid, 12.1% +/- 1.5% protein, and 42.6% +/- 7.3% water. Subantarctic fur seals breeding on Amsterdam Island produced one of the richest milks ever reported in otariids (20.4 +/- 2.9 kJ/g), with lipid content contributing 85% of total gross energy. The high lipid levels measured in the milk of subantarctic fur seals breeding on Amsterdam Island is consistent (i) with the relatively long time lactating females spend at sea, due to the relatively poor local trophic conditions near the colony that necessitate that they travel long distances to reach the foraging grounds, and (ii) with the consequently short time mothers spend with their pups ashore. Milk composition changed according to the time mothers were fasting ashore: milk produced during the first 2 d spent ashore, when more than 80% of milk transfer occurred, had higher levels of lipids, proteins, and gross energy than milk produced later during the visit ashore, suggesting that the pups were fed with two types of milk during a suckling period. Throughout the year, mothers in good condition produced milk of higher lipid content than others, suggesting that individual foraging skills contribute to enhance milk quality. Milk lipid and gross energy content varied with pup age, according to quadratic relationships, increasing during the earlier stages of lactation before reaching asymptotic values when pups were 180 d old. The stage of lactation appears to be a better predictor of milk lipid content than the duration of the preceding foraging trip, suggesting that either changes in the nutritional requirements of the pup and/or seasonal changes in trophic conditions act on milk composition. These changes in milk quality may also be related to changes in maternal care; lactating subantarctic fur seals apparently reallocate their body reserves toward gestation rather than lactation at the end of the pup-rearing period.