Northern elephant seal fasting
Northern elephant seal (NES, hereafter) weanlings (= weaned pups) spend up to 10-12 weeks on land after weaning, and before going to the sea for their first feeding trip. During this period, they are not only able to survive without feeding and drinking, but they are also able to carry on their neonatal development. NES weanlings show an amazing suite of adaptations to preserve their energy budget notwithstanding the lack of food and water intake.
Most studies of NES fasting have been carried out in central California breeding colonies, which have a temperate climate. Mexican breeding colonies show a different, hotter and dryer, climate, that may greatly increase thermal stress, water loss, and energetic cost of thermoregulation. The main goal of this project is to study the physiological and behavioural processes of the fasting in the southernmost NES breeding colony, the San Benitos Islands (Baja California). We plan to compare our results with the published information available for the central California colonies. Apart from being relevant for the life history of the species, our study may improve the understanding of the physiology of fasting at large.