Variation in assimilation efficiency and digestive efficiency of captive harp seals (Phoca groenland
John W. Lawson, Edward H. Miller, and Elizabeth Noseworthy
Ocean Sciences Centre, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NF, A1B 3X9, Canada
Canadian Journal of Zoology. 75: 1285 - 1291. 1997
Abstract: Digestive efficiency (DE) is influenced by many factors including food type or quality. Assimilation efficiency (AE) and DE of 12 captive harp seals (Phoca groenlandica) were estimated for five prey types in large outdoor seawater tanks. In trials of >9 days' duration, the seals were fed Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), Arctic cod (Boreogadus saida), Greenland halibut (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides), Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus), and capelin (Mallotus villosus). Fish were marked with inert tracers so that faecal samples could be matched to individual animals. AE (digestibility of dry matter) was estimated from the relative concentration of Mn2+ in food and faeces. DE (digestible energy) was estimated from the relative concentrations of both Mn2+ and energy in food and faeces. AE and DE values were high, but varied among the fish species (DE: Atlantic cod 93.5%; Arctic cod 93.5%, halibut 94.7%; capelin 95.7%. herring 96.6%). Both estimates of digestive efficiency were positively correlated with prey energy density. For most prey, AE and DE were not correlated with meal size, number of prey in a meal, size of prey, or seal body mass. However, digestive efficiency was greater in seals fed smaller Atlantic cod, or meals of greater mass. Quantifying estimates of digestive efficiency is important for formulating energy-based population consumption models, and so should be improved. It is recommended that more pinniped species be studied in captivity, that experiments last longer, and that the number of individuals studied be increased so that individual differences can be investigated.