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Award Abstract #0440715

Collaborative Research: Aging in Weddell Seals: Proximate Mechanisms of Age-Related Changes in Adaptation to Breath-Hold Hunting in an Extreme Environment

Division Of Polar Programs
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Initial Amendment Date: August 19, 2005
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Latest Amendment Date: November 21, 2008
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Award Number: 0440715
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Award Instrument: Standard Grant
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Program Manager: Roberta L. Marinelli
PLR Division Of Polar Programs
GEO Directorate For Geosciences
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Start Date: September 1, 2005
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End Date: August 31, 2010 (Estimated)
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Awarded Amount to Date: $103,803.00
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Investigator(s): Jo-Ann Mellish joannM@alaskasealife.org (Principal Investigator)
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Sponsor: Alaska SeaLife Center
P.O. Box 1329
Seward, AK 99664-1329 (907)224-6343
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Program Reference Code(s): 0000, 9150, 9169, EGCH, OTHR
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Program Element Code(s): 5111


The primary objectives of this research are to investigate the proximate effects of aging on diving capability in the Weddell Seal and to describe mechanisms by which aging may influence foraging ecology, through physiology and behavior. This model pinniped species has been the focus of three decades of research in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Compared to the knowledge of pinniped diving physiology and ecology during early development and young adulthood, little is known about individuals nearing the upper limit of their normal reproductive age range. Evolutionary aging theories predict that elderly diving seals should exhibit senescence. This should be exacerbated by surges in the generation of oxygen free radicals via hypoxia-reoxygenation during breath-hold diving and hunting, which are implicated in age-related damage to cellular mitochondria. Surprisingly, limited observations of non-threatened pinniped populations indicate that senescence does not occur to a level where reproductive output is affected. The ability of pinnipeds to avoid apparent senescence raises two major questions: what specific physiological and morphological changes occur with advancing age in pinnipeds and what subtle adjustments are made by these animals to cope with such changes? This investigation will focus on specific, functional physiological and behavioral changes relating to dive capability with advancing age. The investigators will quantify age-related changes in general health and body condition, combined with fine scale assessments of external and internal ability to do work in the form of diving. Specifically, patterns of oxidative status and oxygen use with age will be examined. The effects of age on muscular function, contractile capacity in vascular smooth muscle, and exercise capacity via exercise performance in skeletal muscle will be examined. Data will be compared between Weddell seals in the peak, and near the end, of their reproductive age range. An assessment will be made of the ability to do external work (i.e. diving) as well as muscle functionality (ability to do internal work). The investigators hypothesize that senescence does occur in Weddell seals at the level of small-scale, proximate physiological effects and performance, but that behavioral plasticity allows for a given degree of compensation. Broader impacts include the training of students and outreach activities including interviews and articles written for the popular media. Photographs and project summaries will be available to the interested public on the project website. This study should also establish diving seals as a novel model for the study of cardiovascular and muscular physiology of aging. Research on Weddell seals could validate this model and thus develop a foundation for similar research on other species. Advancement of the understanding of aging by medical science has been impressive in recent years and the development of new models for the study of aging has tremendous potential benefits to society at large


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Mellish JE, Tuomi PA, Hindle AG, Horning M. "Chemical immobilization of Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii) by ketamine midazolam combination," Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia, v.37, 2010, p. 123.

Mellish JE, Hindle AG, Horning M. "A preliminary assessment of the impact of disturbance and handling on Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii) of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica," Antarctic Science, v.22, 2010, p. 25.

Hindle AG, Horning M, Mellish JE, Lawler JM. "Diving into old age: muscular senescence in a large-bodied, long-lived mammal, the Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii)," Journal of Experimental Biology, v.212, 2009, p. 790.

Mellish J, Tuomi P, Hindle A, Jang S, Horning M. "Skin microbial flora and effectiveness of aseptic technique for deep muscle biopsies in Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii) in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica," Journal of Wildlife Diseases, v.46, 2010, p. 655.


Mellish J, Hindle A, Horning M. "Aging gracefully: Health and condition in
the adult Weddell seal", 09/01/2009-08/31/2010, "18th Biennial Conference on the Biology
of Marine Mammals, Quebec City, QC"
,  2009, "18th Biennial Conference on the Biology
of Marine Mammals, Quebec City, QC".

Mellish J, Hindle A, Horning M. "Health and condition in the adult Weddell
seal", 09/01/2009-08/31/2010, "American Physiological Society,
Intersociety meeting: Global Change and
Global Science, Denver, CO"
,  2010, "American Physiological Society,
Intersociety meeting: Global Change and
Global Science, Denver, CO".

Hindle A, Mellish J, Horning M, Lawler J. "Apoptosis but not oxidative stress
underlies skeletal muscle senescence in a
free-living diver, the Weddell seal", 09/01/2009-08/31/2010, "American Physiological Society Meeting,
Global Change and Global Science,
Denver, CO"
,  2010, "American Physiological Society Meeting,
Global Change and Global Science,
Denver, CO".


Please report errors in award information by writing to: awardsearch@nsf.gov.



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