Fasting Elephant Seals?


Why do seal pups fast?

Northern elephant seals make adorable pups weighing in at approximately 90lbs. Over their first 28 days, they gain around 10 lbs a day, but on day 28 their mom abruptly leaves for the ocean without having taught them to eat or drink on their own. They are then forced to spend the next two months learning how to dive and feed on their own, thus subjecting them to up to two months without any food or water.┬áThis drastically affects the physiology of the pups, and a pup’s ability to cope with prolonged fasting is crucial for its survival.

What do we want to study?

How can elephant seal pups survive these periods of prolonged fasting?

How are we studying it?

To answer our question, we turned to looking at the physiology of these animals on a cellular level. We want to figure out what the little proteins that work inside the cell are doing to survive this fast. To do so we are using a novel technique called proteomics.

With proteomics, we collect tissue from various areas on the pup (usually muscle and blubber) and are able to determine what proteins are present in those tissues and in what abundance. These proteins are like a puzzle. They give us clues into what mechanisms the seal is using to cope with the lack of food and water.

What are we finding?

We are still in the process of analyzing data, but we are so excited about what we are finding so far (spoiler alert, its really cool)!

Any suggestions? Comment below!

Follow our blog (bottom of page) and Instagram (@beforthesea) for updates on what we are finding and how we are contributing to ocean conservation!


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